You don’t have to go inside Hilo Hattie’s Nimitz store to know it’s big. It’s actually almost two acres under the roof.
“It’s huge.There are all sorts of things you could do with the space,” said Councilmember Joey Manahan, who represents the district.
The councilman first walked through the facility back in March. He then organized several site visits with other lawmakers and social service providers in April.
They began looking at the warehouse as an alternative to Sand Island as an emergency shelter.
“I just think it’s better option in terms of its location. Its closer to existing services like the Institute for Human Services. We would get less complaints because of the area it’s in,” said Manahan.
Those who work nearby seem open to a new use for the facility.
“It might be a good idea just because there is a lot of space there. At least they will be concentrated in one area,” said Jessica Woods.
One former resident is all for creating a safe haven.
The California resident thinks it’s better than seeing the homeless tarnishing the image of the islands in the heart of the visitor industry.
“They were just flagrant on the sidewalks in Waikiki and that’s not good for business for Hawaii,” said Kauamoana Kalama.
But others are wary.
While everyone seems to agree the city needs more shelters, Koala Moa, a neighboring business isn’t sure what to expect.
The company was forced to fence its property to keep illegal campers out.
“We have had run-inss with the homeless walking around the property and being where they weren’t supposed to be,” Koala Moa’s Christopher Shimabukuro.
The company says it will be sorry to see Hilo Hattie go because the tourist traffic is good for business.
But doing a deal won’t be easy, because Hilo Hattie is in bankruptcy.
“We certainly are open to looking at it, but we don’t think it’s a panacea in the near-term,” said City Managing Director Roy Amemiya.
Hilo Hattie already has an offer from a California firm for $4.8 million, and the city administration said there are other hurdles to scale.
“We are understand from social service groups that putting a whole bunch of people 800 people in a facility is ill-advised. They would rather have us use a scattered site approach,” Amemiya said.
The city would also have to pay $106,000 in lease rent, which isn’t in the budget right now.
If the city is serious about taking over the property, it would have to submit a bid by July 27.
The bankruptcy auction is set for Aug. 7.
Hilo Hattie said if the city buys the property it would likely move out.
If a developer acquires it, the store would like to keep a presence at the site.