By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It sometimes rains on the Veterans Day Parade parade in downtown Hilo, but never like this.
The popular, annual November parade won’t be held this year due to the construction along Kamehameha Avenue, a key part of the six-year-old parade route, said the parade’s chairman and founder, Dan Kama.
The county Department of Public Works will begin work on the project in September, said DPW spokeswoman Noelani Whittington.
Kama said he looked at alternative routes but couldn’t find one suitable for the parade. Several suggested areas for relocation of the reviewing stand and flag were deemed too close to the beginning of the parade route, and would not allow for the display of a large American flag that has become a parade tradition, Kama said. “The military is very touchy about this.”
The parade could have used the same route as in past years, except that the judge’s stand and flag would be in an area where parade viewing will be prohibited during the construction project, according to notes of a November meeting among DPW officials and organizations affected by the project. But Kama has already called off the parade. “It’s too late,” he said, “planning needed to start in January.”
Kama plans to use the funds raised for the parade, close to $5,000, to treat active duty war veterans and their families to a luau lunch on May 19 at Auntie Sally’s Luau House. “This will be a free event and the least we can do for them for they have served our country honorably during peace time and war,” he said.
Downtown Improvement Association Director Alice Moon expressed disappointment with the decision not to stage the parade this year. “I was sorry to hear that,” she said. “(The parade) was really starting to gather momentum.” The DIA supports the parade and the private, nonprofit agency offered to help manage the event, she said. “It’s an important part of the community to acknowledge.”
The Kamehameha Avenue reconstruction project is estimated to cost $15 million and take 18 months to complete which may affect parade plans in 2014, as well. The work will include drainage improvements, traffic signal upgrades, a bike lane and new sidewalks on Kamehameha Avenue between the Ponahawai Street/Kamehameha Avenue intersection and the Kamehameha Avenue canoe parking lot. The project is 80 percent federally funded and will help the county comply with federally mandated provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The project will also affect the annual American Heart Association’s Heart & Stroke Walk in February, but the association is expected to keep its walkers entirely on the Bayfront Highway without having to use Kamehameha Avenue. A spokesman for the association could not be reached for comment.
“It’s unfortunate for the veterans that the organizers canceled the parade,” said Department of Public Works Director Warren Lee. “We made them aware of the need for the project up front and we were there to make accommodations for them.”
But veterans parade committee Senior Vice Chairman Wendell Kaehuaea said “it’s safer this way to not have the parade.” The Wailoa Park staging area would be “too hectic” with the construction project going on, he said. He said the decision is regrettable, however, since “support for the parade over the past five years has been amazing.” More veterans need to get involved to keep the event going, however, said the 75-year-old Kama.
Politicians statewide who have found the parade appealing in the past may also be disappointed. Kama said Gov. Neil Abercrombie attended the last two parades, as did Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, both before and after they were elected. “They campaigned, won, then they came back,” he said.