'A'ala Park play time expanded
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
With the unanimous support of the downtown and Kalihi-Palama neighborhood boards, the city will begin expanding hours at 'A'ala Park beginning July 1, allowing families greater access to the once-notorious facility.
The skateboard rink, basketball courts and play equipment area will be open until 9 p.m., two hours longer than the rest of the park, on a six-month trial basis to promote people using the park in an appropriate way, said Berna-dette Young, chairwoman of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board.
"It's summer and it's the only place the kids have got to play," said Young. "Since the city renovated it, it would be a disaster if we didn't make use of it. We only asked for a six-months trial period because if it is going to bring back all the drug users, we will have to go back to the original hours."
Crime is down markedly since the park reopened in March, and the expanded hours signal the next step in the city's effort to reclaim the area for residents.
"The whole area is improving with all the increased activity," said Chad Hiyakumoto, who owns 'A'ala Park Boardshop on nearby College Walk. "The crime is finally dying down."
The city spent $2.3 million to renovate the park, which had been a haven for illegal activities for decades. But drug dealers and prostitutes eventually moved out, the result of a Weed & Seed crime-fighting program and a two-year closure for repairs, clearing the way for reclamation.
The city has built basket-ball courts and softball fields, refurbished the 10,000-square-foot skateboard rink and comfort station, put in a water system and play apparatus, made the walkways wheelchair-accessible and improved the lighting.
Hiyakumoto said police have been enforcing the 7 p.m. closure, chasing out skateboarders and basketball players and closing the parking lot. He said he and other skateboarders attended neighborhood board meetings to lobby for extended hours months ago and is happy more time will be allowed to use the park.
"It's such a good thing to have skateboard parks, especially in a really populated area," Hiyakumoto said. "I see these kids every day in my shop and (the rink) is really a positive thing. There are so many worse things they could be doing."
Police Lt. William Waters said officers will continue to enforce the 7 p.m. curfew in areas not designated to be open later. Waters said crime is down dramatically in the park since it reopened.
"We have been putting more patrols in there to keep it clean," Waters said. "I think because of the usage by the kids, criminals are staying away. Kids are hanging around in the skateboard and basketball areas and the playground, and people will call if they see any illegal activities. So the response (by police) there is better because more people are using the park."
The park, one of the oldest in Hawai'i, was deeded to the Hawai'i minister of the interior in May 1871 "for the use and benefit of the Hawaiian government."
It wasn't until the late 1960s, when slum housing, dance halls, pool rooms and a dilapidated three-story building that housed the 'A'ala Pawn Shop in the triangle were razed, that the 4-acre wedge became a landscaped "gateway to Honolulu."
But by the 1980s, homeless people had moved into the park, along with a growing number of drug dealers and prostitutes.
Young said the park will remain closed at night. The extended hours will allow families to make better use of the three well-lighted play areas.
"The nicest thing is seeing the kids back in the park," Young said. "It contributes to being a better place."
Reach James Gonser at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2431.