Star Advertiser: Editorial: Put public first in park partnerships

(Source: Star Advertiser)

December 5, 2018

RENDERING COURTESY DESIGN PARTNERS INC.
A meeting with stakeholders and children from several Oahu schools led to changes to the playground site. The new plan includes adding more zip lines and a splash pad.

 

When the Caldwell administration began working on a $144 million plan to renovate Ala Moana Regional Park, the public response was loud, clear and unequivocal: Don’t mess with “The People’s Park.”

Advocates and concerned citizens expressed understandable fear that proposed park enhancements would gentrify this cherished public space.

They insisted that any renovations protect and support the casual, local-style vibe enjoyed by generations of families who come from all over Oahu with their coolers and grills to spend the day outdoors. This message should be heeded.

Even so, the city’s plan is not without merit. The popular park is showing signs of wear and tear, with dingy pavement, expanses of scraggly grass, a rocky beach and an unappealing pond and drainage channel.

Much can be done to improve the park as it is (visit ouralamoanapark.com to see how), while making room for something new.

Case in point: The city is poised to turn over one acre of the park near Magic Island for a “world-class” playground, so described by a private nonprofit group, Pa‘ani Kakou, which will design, build then gift it to the city as part of a sponsorship agreement.

The playground would be large and elaborate, with six zip lines, a splash pad, slides, a globe-shaped structure that spins, swings for multiple riders and other amenities like a concession stand. There is nothing else like it on the island, and would cost $2.5 million or more to build.

It sounds rosy. Children playing outdoors, getting lots of varied exercise and fresh air, with no electronic devices, in a modern play space designed to attract them.

Even better, the playground would accommodate children with disabilities, who too often get left on the sidelines when play structures are built.

It’s also a project the city could ill afford to build and maintain itself; hence the public-private partnership. Therein lies the rub. Should the city allow a private partner to take over part of Ala Moana park, even for what looks like a laudable project?

In this case, Pa‘ani Kakou is affiliated with Kobayashi Group, one of the developers of Park Lane Ala Moana, an ultraluxury condo development overlooking the park. Kobayashi Group is raising funds for the design, construction, financing and management of the playground through Pa‘ani Kakou.

If not handled with care, similar partnerships could lead to the public park evolving into a quasi- private one, with commercialized development that runs counter to the public responses the city solicited early on in the planning process.

In this instance, the city promises that the playground will be kept open and easily accessible to Hawaii’s keiki for free — an essential condition to ensure that the public park remains public.

There also needs to be a solid financial plan to maintain the playground into the foreseeable future.

Pa‘ani Kakou would manage the playground, but would share the cost with the city to maintain it. That could prove challenging. They have to ensure that the playground not only is safe for children, but remains attractive — no small task, given the project’s size and complexity, the anticipated popularity of the playground and the depredations of salty sea air. The city hopes a new concession will help defray the cost.

Projects like this playground can be beneficial. They activate portions of the park that otherwise get relatively little use, and displace no one. The city must ensure that the folks who use The People’s Park will be able to enjoy it as they always have, relaxed and free. A modern playground for the keiki can enhance the experience.

 

Via: Star Advertiser

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