By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Ambitious plans to build a three-story commercial building on the site of the Hilo Farmers Market were shelved when the Great Recession put a serious damper on the nation’s economy.
The project had all of its approvals and was ready to go in 2008, but the timing was terrible, said Keith De La Cruz. Now with the economy rebounding, he dusting off those plans and taking another look.
It’s been 25 years since a handful of entrepreneurs started the Hilo Farmers Market out of the trunks of cars at Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street. De La Cruz hadn’t realized it was the market’s silver anniversary this year until asked Friday if he had any special plans to celebrate. “Uh, no, but I guess now we’ll have to do something,” he said, laughing.
De La Cruz acquired the market in 1999 and has watched it grow ever since. More than 200 vendors currently fill the market’s available stalls on primary market days — Wednesday and Saturday,. The number of vendors is bringing more diversity to the market’s offerings, he said. “We’re seeing a lot more entrepreneurs coming to the market, more custom-made products, everything from t-shirts to wood products to jewelry.
“It’s the good new and bad news,” he said. “People are coming but we don’t have enough space.”
Dela Cruz now aims for the short term to erect more stalls behind the Farmer’s Kitchen walk-up restaurant on the Keaau side of Mamo St., and to open up additional outdoor dining opportunities in that area by this summer.
De La Cruz said he’s encouraged to see increasing numbers of tourists in downtown Hilo recently from expanded cruise ship arrivals and more direct flights to Hilo. Dela Cruz hopes additional planned new direct flights to Hawaii in July will continue to grow the number market visitors.
Over the next two to three years, De La Cruz says he will likely scale back the original plans for a three-story building by a story or two, but will pursue his plan for a solid roof, concrete floor, and more permanent structure to replace the poles and tarps that often blow away and leak in the wind and rain.
Concerns with traffic circulation around the market may still have to be addressed.
Five years ago the County was willing to put a half-million-dollar “Barnz Dance” pedestrian crosswalk on Mamo Street, said the County’s Traffic Division chief, Ron Thiel, but with a 50 percent match from De La Cruz. The type of crosswalk stops all traffic through an intersection so that pedestrians can cross in any direction, straight across or diagonally. “It’s the only way to eliminate conflicts between pedestrians and cars,” Thiel said. But the county and De La Cruz never reached an agreement to share the costs.
There were also plans to test the closing of a portion of Mamo Street from Kamehameha Street to Punahoa Street, but they were never pursued, Thiel said.
Nevertheless De La Cruz is moving forward again. “Everything is about timing,” he said. “Now it seems more possible.
“The last four years? Ugh.”
Contact Hunter Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org