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Lawmakers: Banyan Drive needs a boost

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Hotels on Banyan Drive are seen here from Coconut Island on Friday afternoon.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>The Hilo Hawaiian Hotel on Banyan Drive is seen here Friday afternoon.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>The Naniloa Volcanoes Resort is seen here Friday afternoon.</p>

By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Several Big Island lawmakers are once again seeking to put someone else in charge of Hilo’s resort district.

The Banyan Drive area hosts East Hawaii’s largest hotels but is considered to be past its prime.

Some attribute the problem to having a landowner, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, that’s better geared toward conservation than managing resort lands.

House Bill 1249 would change that by transferring the lands to a community development district — tasked, among other duties, with creating a development plan for the area.

Rep. Mark Nakashima, D-Hamakua, Hilo, introduced the bill, which has support from six other Big Island representatives.

Former Rep. Jerry Chang had pursued the same legislation in 2011 and 2012, but the bill had failed to make it out of committee.

Nakashima said the purpose of the development authority would be to encourage the hotels to take a more “active interest” in their facilities.

While the lands would still be leased, the district would be tasked with making public improvements, including to roadways and other infrastructure, that could make investment more enticing, he said.

A development plan would also work toward that goal.

“It is our hope that working with the community, working with the board, they will really look at long-term future and investment in the area,” Nakashima said.

The district would be under the Hawaii Community Development Authority but have its own 11-member board that would include county and state officials with six positions reserved for the public at large.

DLNR has opposed the legislation, noting the loss of lease revenue that it uses to help manage 1.3 million acres of public lands.

Money from the leases goes into the agency’s Special Land and Development Fund.

“Revenues from leases of public lands managed by the Department go hand in hand with the Department’s ability to fulfill its public land management responsibilities and fiduciary obligations,” DLNR Chairman William Aila wrote in his testimony on the bill.

Anthony Ching, HCDA executive director, said the agency would be able to use its staff of 23 architects, planners and engineers to help improve the area.

“If we were tasked by the Legislature, we would bring that to bear,” he said.

Ching said the agency has no position on the bill.

The HCDA manages two districts on Oahu.

There are no community development districts on the Neighbor Islands.

The House Committee of Water and Land will consider taking action on the bill on Monday.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis @hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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