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Kailua residents want A&B to keep Pali Lanes, survey finds

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In a survey conducted by Alexander & Baldwin, Kailuans say they support the preservation of Pali Lanes in Kailua.

Results from a survey by Alexander & Baldwin Inc. showed that Kailua residents are most concerned about traffic, crowds and tourism, and support keeping Pali Lanes, the longtime bowling alley which became a touchstone of controversy between the community and the real estate company.

The survey also showed residents have a low level of trust for A&B, which owns 90 percent of the retail buildings in Kailua.

A&B put development plans for the town on hold following pushback from Our Kailua, a community group formed to save the bowling alley from demolition through its #SavePaliLanes social media campaign and petition, earlier this year.

Since then the bowling alley, one of the few that remain on Oahu, has been designated a historic place by a state review board. In the application the retro, pink building with a semicircular shape at 120 Hekili St. was described as a good example of midcentury Modern design by architectural firm Wimberly & Cook when it opened as the Pali Lanes in 1961.

A&B said it has extended the lease for Pali Lanes another year while reviewing the range of possibilities for the structure, including whether a bowling operation is feasible in the long term. Prior to the pushback, A&B had explored the possibility of redeveloping the 1.7 acres, offering landscaped gathering spaces.

A survey was mailed to 15,856 Kailua households. A total of 4,490 residents responded. Here is an example of one of the questions:

Agree to keep Pali Lanes and surrounding area as is (on a scale from 1-5):
5: 43%
4: 13%
3: 11%
2: 7%
1: 11%
Don’t know/left blank: 14%

The survey results are posted online at kailuatownhi.com/survey.
Source: Ward Research

Ward Research mailed the survey to 16,000 Kailua households in September, according to A&B. Survey results were posted online and mailed to residents this month in a letter dated Dec. 10 and signed by Chris Benjamin, A&B president and CEO, and Sheila-Anne Ebert, manager of A&B Kailua Properties.

A total of 4,490 residents responded to the survey by Oct. 1, according to Ward Research, representing a response rate of 28.3 percent.

Three out of 4 Kailua residents surveyed said they were satisfied with overall life in Kailua but expressed concerns about the impacts of increasing traffic, crowding and tourism.

Residents reported a low level of trust for A&B. Only 3 percent of those surveyed said they trust A&B “a great deal,” while 23 percent said they do not trust A&B “at all” when it comes to acting in the interests of Kailua.

Survey respondents were asked to rank organizations that would “do what is best for Kailua and its residents.”

The local neighborhood board ranked highest, with 15 percent saying they would trust it a great deal, while the Kailua Chamber of Commerce ranked second, with 7 percent. The city and state government earned only 3 percent of the highest trust ranking by survey respondents, along with A&B.

“We have taken this feedback to heart,” said Benjamin and Ebert in the letter. “While some issues are beyond our control, we will work more closely with the community and government to identify solutions. We will work harder to earn your trust and to share information about our plans in a timely and effective manner.”

Survey respondents also rated Kailua’s mix of restaurants, shops, crime reduction and prevention efforts, and efforts to manage vehicle and bicycle traffic on a scale of 1 (extremely dissatisfied) to 5 (extremely satisfied). Twenty-four percent were extremely dissatisfied with efforts to manage vehicle traffic, and 28 percent were extremely dissatisfied with efforts to manage bicycle traffic.

Five in 8 survey respondents — or 62 percent — indicated that tourism has had a negative impact on their household’s overall quality of life due to increased traffic, crowds, bicycle and pedestrian issues and tour buses. Some respondents wanted a limit on short-term vacation rentals and tour buses, and said homeless issues need to be addressed, along with the cleanliness of Kailua’s public parks and beaches.

Survey respondents also supported keeping locally owned businesses while limiting the number of big-box stores, or stores with merchandise not geared toward locals. Many said Kailua was special because of its small-town atmosphere, unlike Waikiki, and that much of this was being lost with the influx of tourists.

Tekla Weber, an Our Kailua organizer, supports small businesses in Kailua.

“Small business is what makes our town so attractive and livable,” Weber said. “Bringing in high-end restaurants, internationally renowned gyms and cosmetic stores are not what make a walking, family-style, small-town beach community. I don’t believe our residential community can sustain these businesses — which points to querying what A&B’s perspective goals and intentions are for their own real estate holdings. They are denuding our Hawaiiana and creating a Kailuamoana.”

A&B said the survey results specifically regarding Pali Lanes reflected a “wide range of views” on the bowling alley’s future, and that pushback to replacing it “appears to be related to trust issues.” More than half, or 56 percent, supported keeping Pali Lanes as is, while 35 percent supported replacing it and repurposing the area.

Our Kailua founder Evan Weber, Tekla’s son, said he wished the survey had included the option of preserving and improving Pali Lanes, which is what the group believes the majority of Kailuans would like to see happen.

“Not even those of us fighting to save Pali Lanes simply want to just keep it as is,” he said. “Ideally, A&B could be a partner in all of this, but it is hard to make improvements to the building when the business owners keep only receiving one-year leases, and there is so much uncertainty about the future of the building.”

Still, he was pleased that support for Pali Lanes was strong, and said he looked forward to finding a solution and keeping A&B accountable to the community.

A&B said it would conduct a thorough review of the Pali Lanes site and adjacent open space, including the range of possibilities, which include bowling as well as alternative uses for the site.

“Most importantly, we will present our findings, and a range of possibilities, to the community before making final plans for Pali Lanes and the surrounding area,” the A&B letter said.

In addition to the survey, A&B said that to date it has conducted more than 300 face-to-face meetings with Kailua community groups, residents and business owners, and dozens of interviews with stakeholders.

While reviewing options for Pali Lanes, A&B said in its letter that it is donating land at Hamakua Drive for a community dog park and committing $100,000 to help the city relocate a crosswalk on Kailua Road closer to California Pizza Kitchen, with flashers, to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street. These efforts, A&B said, are examples of its efforts to work with the community.

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