Varying Visions for Honolulu’s Chinatown

Jul 14, 2016

Credit Paul Sableman / Flick

Economic development in Honolulu’s Chinatown is brisk but faces lingering challenges with homelessness, crime and sanitation. Pacific Business News Editor in Chief A. Kam Napier has more on the competing plans to turn Chinatown around.

Chinatown is a complex neighborhood. There are a lot of different landowners, business owners and community groups. Then there’s government, and that’s complex too. Multiple layers of city zoning rules have preserved the historic character of the neighborhood but can make it slow going for businesses that want to establish themselves there.

There are as many agendas as there are players, so perhaps it’s not surprising that there are currently three major plans for solving the lingering problems of crime, homelessness and sanitation in the neighborhood.

One is driven entirely by area businesses. Its fans say it can move more quickly to help member businesses with, for example, additional security. Detractors say the group tends to favor the newest bars, restaurants and galleries, not that wider range of area businesses. A second plan is driven by the city, the Chinatown Action Plan unveiled in 2015. It calls for welcome urban beautification improvements but some feel it has yet to deliver tangible improvements.

A third plan, now in the proposal stage, calls for a public-private partnership designating Chinatown a Business Improvement District. These exist for Waikiki and the Fort Street area. Proponents say it’s the best way to combine the powers of business and government, but detractors note that comes with extra fees to be a member and the B.I.D.s that do exist haven’t exactly solved the problems they were meant to address.

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