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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Chinatown awaits Rooster

 •  Business blames broken main

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

With as many as 20,000 people expected to show up for events scheduled for Feb. 4, including celebrations for the Chinese Year of the Rooster, Chinatown is going to be one very busy place.

Annual festivities

The Chinese Merchants Association will hold its annual Chinese New Year's celebration called "Night In Chinatown" from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, including a festival on Maunakea Street and a parade along Hotel Street from Richards Street to River Street starting at 3:45 p.m. The festival will continue Feb. 5 and Maunakea Street will be closed again for the activities. The Year of the Rooster officially arrives on Feb. 9. Axt said streets will be reopened as the lion groups go through, but he couldn't say exactly when that will be. "If at all possible, avoid the Chinatown area unless you are going to the events," he said.

Roads will be closed and parking will be tight as traditional lion dance groups perform, food and craft booths fill Fort Street Mall, concerts and theater productions are staged, and the popular First Friday Gallery Walk takes place in the area that not long ago was considered a risky place to be at night.

"When darkness comes, people fled from the area and for good reasons in prior times," said Caroline Kim, director of operations for the Fort Street Mall Business Improvement District. "Now that we have done a darn good job of cleaning up the mall and making it safe with patrols and security, it is a great place to be."

The Chinatown area, which is a designated Weed & Seed crime-fighting district, has been rife with illegal drug and gambling activity as well as prostitution. But merchants, residents and police have been working to push out criminals and provide legitimate activities to attract customers and clean up the neighborhood.

"With the new loft law, policemen walking the beat and new restaurants opening, the nonprofits are starting to work together and it looks like (Chinatown) is becoming a destination point," said Ed Korybski, project administrator for the Honolulu Culture & Arts District, a nonprofit group formed to promote the arts and to improve conditions in the downtown area.

Boosters hope to transform the district into a vibrant community filled with sidewalk and courtyard cafés, bars with live music, artists creating works in loft studios, art galleries along tree-lined streets and pedestrian malls filled with evening strollers.

Korybski is coordinating the Feb. 4 events with the Fort Street Mall BID, the Nu'uanu Merchants Association and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

Street closures

On Feb. 4, Chinatown streets from Beretania Street to Nimitz Highway and from River Street to Nu'uanu Avenue will be closed for the New Year's activities from 6 to 9 p.m. with the exception of King Street, which will close at 8 p.m. Nu'uanu Avenue will be partially open to allow traffic to pass, according to police Sgt. Bill Axt. Buses will be rerouted from Hotel Street to Nimitz Highway.

Axt said streets will be reopened as the lion groups go through, but he couldn't say exactly when that will be. "If at all possible, avoid the Chinatown area unless you are going to the events," he said.

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce has organized the lion dance ceremony, which will start at 6:30 p.m. in front of their office at 42 N. King St. Ten lions will transverse the Chinatown district to bring luck and happiness to area businesses. At Wilcox Park on Fort Street Mall the chamber will set up stages for dance groups, cultural demonstrations and craft and food booths.

At the same time, the Fort Street Mall BID will hold its first "Friday After 5" craft fair featuring artisans and food vendors on the mall at Pauahi Street.

The First Friday Gallery Walk begins at 5 p.m. and has grown to include 23 galleries and art-related retail, restaurants and museums in the Downtown/Chinatown district. Galleries and studios open their doors for an evening to celebrate artists, art and art-making of all kinds.

The Nu'uanu Merchants Association, a newly formed nonprofit organized to promote and clean up Nu'uanu Street, will provide street circus performers and musicians.

Also that evening, the traditional Hawaiian group Na Palapalai will perform at the Hawai'i Theatre as part of the "From Hawai'i, With Aloha!" Hana Hou! Hawaiian Music Series. Kumu Kahua Theatre at the corner of Merchant and Bethel will stage the play "David Carradine Not Chinese" by Darrell H.Y. Lum.

The Chinatown Cultural Plaza, at Maunakea and Beretania streets, will also hold New Year's celebrations from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Feb. 4 and 5 with fireworks, lion dances and traditional entertainment.

"This is a major step forward with so many things on the same night," said Chinese Chamber of Commerce member Stanford Yuen. "We have the parking availability, sidewalk improvements, streets repaved, security cameras, a police station and all these things are coming into play right now. "

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.