Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Tuesday announced plans to revitalize Chinatown, as well as new initiatives to make it cleaner and safer so that people will visit the neighborhood again.
“I believe that the beat of this island, its heart, is in Chinatown,” said Caldwell during a news conference Tuesday, calling it a historic, beautiful place, but with numerous challenges that have been in place for decades.
“The City and County of Honolulu is making a commitment to do more for Chinatown,” he said, “to do more things to have it, particularly in this time of pandemic, be clean, be neat, be beautiful and a welcoming place for everybody.”
In addition to a $200,000 contract to power-wash and disinfect sidewalks, which begins tonight, the city is also stepping up police patrols in the historic district, removing graffiti, enforcing proper trash disposal practices and engaging the arts community to beautify the area.
The power washing contract runs through mid-December.
Caldwell said the city has planted Pak Lan trees in previously empty planters at Kekaulike Mall, and plans to install energy-efficient LEDs this coming fall to light up the area at night. In addition, entrepreneur Eddie Flores is spearheading efforts to build an arch near the mall to mark the gateway to Chinatown.
Flores, who considered Chinatown a second home while growing up a few blocks away, is raising funds for the arch and expects to announce the design soon.
“It’s going to be a great addition to Chinatown,” he said.
On July 11 the city plans to hold a pilot “open street” event on Hotel Street modeled after recent ones on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki.
From 5 to 9 p.m. that day, Hotel Street will be closed to all vehicles so that people can bike, run or stroll between River Street and Richards Street and visit restaurants. The idea is to bring people to Chinatown on a Saturday evening to shop and dine.
The Kalakaua Avenue “Open Street Sundays” have proved to be popular, according to Caldwell, and he hopes that restaurants will bring out tables and fill up sidewalks to provide outdoor, summer dining.
“If it works, we’ll try it again on another Saturday,” he said. “We hope restaurants will step up, and we’re going to be asking them to participate.”
These new efforts are meant to help the merchants, shops and art galleries in the neighborhood thrive once again, Caldwell said.
Elvira Lo, Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii president, said she would encourage members to participate in the open street event.
Although she had no statistics, merchants in Chinatown have been struggling due to the impacts of the pandemic, much like many others on the island. Since the Lunar New Year celebration at the end of January, the streets have been relatively empty.
Some businesses that shut down in mid-March due to the pandemic have not been able to reopen again. Others close earlier than usual. Some are seeking small-business loans to start up again.
Caldwell said the $200,000 contract for power washing will be paid through coronavirus relief funds, while other efforts like stepped-up enforcement already have been allotted in the city budget.
Homeless outreach teams will continue to provide services, and sidewalk nuisance laws will continue to be enforced.
Chinatown businesses, which were earlier encouraged to use thick yellow bags for their trash, are now asked to put them in carts and to not leave them out during the entire day. Also, trash should go inside the cart to prevent scavengers from going through it, and cardboard and other items should not be left alongside it or along the curbside.
Trash in the neighborhood is picked up six days a week.
Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina said notices of violation would go out first, but she did not expect the situation to escalate to the point of issuing fines. She said some merchants have installed surveillance cameras in order to catch people who have been strewing trash along the streets.
The city also will explore opportunities to commission street art telling the stories of Chinatown with groups like Pow Wow Worldwide, as well as streetART- hawaii, which brought art to traffic signal boxes in Kaimuki and Kailua.
OPEN STREET SATURDAY IN CHINATOWN
>> When: 5 to 9 p.m. July 11
>> Where: Along Hotel Street, from River Street to Richards Street
>> What: Stretch will be closed to vehicular traffic, allowing visitors to stroll, jog, bike and visit restaurants in the neighborhood
Source: City and County of Honolulu