Debate over increasing parking in Wailuku has gone on since 1962, according to County records. Towards the end of Maui’s post-war decades, the island economy was shifting from sugar and pineapple to a new and promising crop; visitors. The “Dream City” developments in Central Maui, stretching into emerging neighborhoods in Wailuku, would create the largest property tax base for the next generation. Central Maui was thriving.

As tourism grew, West and South Maui took the lead in supporting the tax base, while Central Maui declined. However, like all of our great small island towns, Wailuku retained its own flavor, steeped in history and culture.

Wailuku, as the County seat, has always been a busy hub. Yet the growing need for parking over the past half century seems to run into conflict with the community trying to keep its sense of place.

A plan for a new parking structure, plus related infrastructure improvements and a civic complex, have already been approved, though not all $80 million in bond funds are in place. In a landmark move on March 26, 2019, freshman council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez tried to take away monies for the portion of the project that is already funded. Supporters of this move felt monies could be better spent elsewhere.

With work slated to start this summer, the Maui County Economic Development and Budget Committee did not approve the move to defund the project. As the project moves toward its start date, phase II, which includes a new civic complex is likely to be hotly debated.

Last spring, $44 million was approved by the County Council for the first phase of the project, which includes road and infrastructure improvements along Church and Vineyard streets. This portion is slated to start in June, according to Erin Wade, county planner and project administrator.

Also included in the first phase is construction of a 428-stall parking garage and shared road behind Market Street properties, scheduled to start construction in September.

Phase I has been funded, and the County has begun to contract for services. A $40 million budget for Phase 2, which includes the three-story civic building and plaza, was appropriated by the council in December, but the project must return there for bond authorization.

Supporters include area land and business owners, along with many residents, who see the complex as a way to revitalize the depressed Wailuku town area. Project critics say the price tag is too high, and the money would be better spent on county priorities, such as affordable housing.

If bond funding already approved would have been taken away by the recent Maui County Economic Development and Budget Committee vote, the funds would be lost. According to County Managing Director Sandy Baz, approved funds cannot just be transferred to another project.