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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 13, 2001

Waipahu eager for Filipino center to open

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Popular singer Martin Nievera was the main attraction at the ninth annual Filipino Fiesta & Parade yesterday at Kapi'olani Park, but the event showcased another star, 15 miles away: the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu.

Rose Churma and Eddie Flores Jr. show off a model of the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu. "Every time I drive by it, it nearly brings tears to my eyes," Flores said.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It's nearly ready," Eddie Flores Jr. said of the "FilCom Center," under construction near the Waipahu Sugar Mill smokestack. It is scheduled for completion in May 2002. "Every time I drive by it, it nearly brings tears to my eyes."

The three-story, 50,000-square-foot center will be the largest Filipino community center outside of the Philippines.

Flores Jr. is vice president of the nonprofit Filipino Community Center Inc., which is overseeing construction of the $8.5 million center. He said the building is about 21 percent complete.

"The Filipino community has been pushing for this center since 1930," he said. "The center will serve all ethnic groups, not just the Filipino community. It will also be part of the economic revitalization of Waipahu."

Construction of the center, at Waipahu and Mokuola streets near Hans L'Orange Park, began Dec. 8 after several years of planning and fund-raising.

Rose Churma, interim executive director of the nonprofit Filipino Community Center Inc., said a $5 million federal loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Program was one of the conditions to secure a construction loan from City Bank.

The center's first floor will be leased to retail businesses, the second floor will have a large assembly area and commercial kitchen, and the third will allow space for other nonprofit companies that provide community services including health, education and employment training.

Flores Jr. said the center is planning several community programs, and organizers are negotiating with Catholic Charities in possibly providing senior services there.

The Filipino population in Hawai'i is estimated at 170,000, or about 15 percent of the state's population, based on the 1990 U.S. Census. Today, experts say, they are closer to 20 percent of the state population.

With about 6,000 Filipinos immigrating here each year, the ethnic group could surpass Hawai'i's Japanese population in 10 to 20 years.

The Filipino Fiesta attracts between 15,000 to 20,000 each year, Flores Jr. said, although Nievera's performance may have brought out more people yesterday.