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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 15, 2003

Money to buy old 'Aiea sugar mill released

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday released $2.5 million to buy land at the old 'Aiea Sugar Mill, a move that will ensure that the entire mill site will be preserved for community use.

The state will buy five lots from Bank of Hawaii and hopes to move the 'Aiea Public Library there. 'Aiea residents have been searching for more than 10 years for a larger location for the library.

Although no timetable has been set to build the new facility, Lingle said the purchase preserves the land for public use. In 1997, previous landowner Crazy Shirts demolished the 100-year-old C&H Sugar mill and planned to turn the area into a light industrial park.

The library is expected to be a centerpiece of a revitalization plan for the mill location. The city last year signed an agreement with Bank of Hawaii to buy 6.8 acres at the site for a community center, which would include housing for senior citizens.

Although the city's plans are being slowed by financing problems and there are no solid plans for the library move, the land acquisitions were vital because the bank was close to putting the land for sale on the open market.

City Councilman Gary Okino, who represents the 'Aiea area and has been pushing for the town center, thanked the governor for releasing the money, which was appropriated by the 2002 Legislature.

"The point was to buy the land so we have an option when we have enough money," Okino said. "The governor stepped in just at the last second (and) snatched it away from several potential buyers."

Okino also credited Rep. Lynn Finnegan for working with the Lingle administration to release the money. Finnegan, R-32nd (Aliamanu, Airport, Mapunapuna), said a lot of work needs to be done before anything is built on the state's land.

"There are so many other things that need to be done — site feasibility and assessment need to be done on the property to make sure it fits the needs of an expanded 'Aiea library, as well as funding sources amongst all the other library concerns and financial troubles that they're having right now," Finnegan said.

"There are other things that are in the front of the line instead of expanding our library, but the bottom line here was we did not want industrial use in this plan for our community."

Claire Tamamoto, president of the 'Aiea Community Association, also credited several businesses for backing down on plans to buy land at the mill.

"The businesses supported the overall community vision," said Tamamoto, who spearheaded the community movement to preserve the site. "There was some interest by the business community in that lot, but they're also members of the community."

She added that a master plan has been completed on the project, but acknowledged that money is a concern. Still, Tamamoto said she was pleased with yesterday's development.

"The community knows that they may have to wait. But if you asked us four years ago if we could get this done, they would have said we were dreaming, and we were," she said.

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.