Imagine if the grounds and building of the Pali Lanes bowling alley in
Kailua were completely renovated with a newly
repainted, modern-style facade and grass area
featuring a stage for hula performances.
The ground floor would feature a bistro, with outdoor seating, and an additional second floor would have new office and retail spaces, while the existing dome would be blanketed with solar photovoltaic panels to produce renewable energy.
This is all part of “Pali Lanes Re-Imagined,” a
vision that The Hamakua Group, a community advocacy group, presented to the Kailua Neighborhood Board last month.
“The first thing is to
get people to invest in the vision,” said Bob Gratz, founder of The Hamakua Group. “You know, sometimes it’s surprising where dollars come from once people are convinced of the idea. There’s plenty of deep pockets around Kailua, private and corporate, and so the dollars are probably out there but it’s not going to happen unless they understand the vision and buy into it.”
Gratz, a longtime Kailua resident and retired nurse anesthetist, admitted he is not a city planner. But he has invested significant time into a new vision for Pali Lanes, and put together a suite of renderings and video tour to present to the public.
In a synopsis for the “Pali Lanes Re-Imagined” vision posted on the group’s website, Gratz said Kailua now has the
opportunity to consider a proactive plan for Pali Lanes.
The group has even solicited preliminary bids from two contractors for the renovation — one from the Metzler Contracting Co., based on Hawaii island, and one from Akagi Builders in Mililani. Given that it is a vision, Gratz has no precise estimate of the final renovation costs, and carrying it out would be up to the Pali Lanes operators.
The ground lease for the Pali Lanes bowling alley at 120 Hekili St. expires Jan. 31. After that, Pali Lanes will be on a month-to-month lease.
In August, Alexander &Baldwin announced it would keep Pali Lanes for bowling but would reach out to other potential bowling operators and consider complementary activities and uses.
The building in December was designated by a state board as a historic place.
“We have committed to
allow Pali Lanes to stay in place while we fulfill our promise to look for feasible ways to preserve the building, keep bowling in Kailua and make the surrounding area a vibrant community gathering place, potentially with new uses and activities for local residents,” A&B spokesman Darren Pai wrote in an email.
However, the Pali Lanes owners have said they do not have the financial resources to fix the building and pay rent, he said. Nor have they shared with A&B a long-term business plan that demonstrates they can be financially sustainable.
“We have offered several times over the last six months to help them work on a business plan and are waiting to hear back from them,” Pai said. “Given these circumstances, although both A&B and Pali Lanes would prefer more certainty, a month-to-month extension is the only real option.”
The Hamakua Group’s vision offers some interesting ideas, and A&B applauds the group’s initiative, Pai said. But the costs are unclear, along with whether the changes are viable, given the building’s historic status.
In the meantime A&B has been searching for bowling alley operators with successful business models to make bowling viable again
“We’ve had initial discussions with several operators and remain open to a new business plan from Pali Lanes should they be able to develop one,” Pai said.
Without a long-term lease, Pali Lanes co-owner Art Machado said it would be difficult to get a loan or bring in potential investors for a renovation such as the one presented by The Hamakua Group. He just spent $9,000 to fix the roof above the snack bar, which has been closed for months, and will need to spend more to completely reopen and bring in revenue again.
In the meantime Pali Lanes has already taken the initiative of exploring other uses. Machado agreed in September to let the Kailua Town Farmers’ Market hold its Sunday morning market at its parking lot through the end of December, bringing
in additional revenue.
Also, Blocktoberfest, a
recent block party held on Hekili Street and at the Pali Lanes parking lot, brought in thousands of visitors. Many visitors went to Pali Lanes for cosmic bowling after concerts had wrapped up for the evening, resulting in a good night for the bowling alley.
Without a long-term lease, Machado said he remains in a difficult position, unable to offer bowling leagues contracts for the year ahead.
At the same time, Pali Lanes continues to serve youth from local schools and the Special Olympics.
Machado said he has sought a quote for bowling equipment upgrades from Brunswick Bowling. He is also working on a business plan with the help of graduate students at Hawaii Pacific University.
For Gratz the vision started with the desire for a walkable pathway from the retail shops on Kailua Road to Hamakua Marsh which would cut through the Pali Lanes building.
While the exterior and dome would remain, there would be a new elevator shaft and stairway to a second floor, which could offer office or retail spaces for lease to generate additional revenue, along with the bistro downstairs.
Some of what the original 1961 building offered would also be restored, including an open, instead of enclosed, lanai facing the parking lot.
Gratz, also a proponent for sustainable practices, envisions part of the Pali Lanes parking lot being converted to a grass courtyard. The
remaining asphalt would be replaced with “checkerblock” pavers — a permeable surface allowing water into the ground. The existing monkeypod trees would remain, surrounded by large planters.
The solar panels would help reduce electricity costs for air conditioning. The building would be sustainable in every way, qualifying it for the Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design certification program for green buildings.
Kailua Neighborhood Board member Donna Wong invited The Hamakua Group to present its vision at the September meeting.
“Kailua Neighborhood Board has been on record
a long time to keep the bowling alley,” she said. “When
I saw there were these new ideas, I thought we’d better present that to the board and let the community know that it’s still ongoing.”
While Wong likes the vision, she wants the Pali Lanes building exterior to maintain its present form and character. She thinks it is important for dialogue to continue as the transition to a month-to-month lease looms ahead.
“It has a lot of really good concepts and took a lot of work,” she said of the vision. “A lot of thought went into it.”