The Hotel Wailuku Akaku Salon panel (L-R): Hotel developers Jonathan Starr and Helen Nielsen, and Wailuku business owners Marc Tolliver and Kristin Holmes

The Hotel Wailuku is not expected to cater to tourists and is unlikely to be reduced from its planned six-story height, said landowner and Hotel Wailuku developer Jonathan Starr at a Feb. 13 Akaku Salon sponsored by Hotel Wailuku. Following Akaku CEO Jay April’s sycophantic introduction of Jonathan Starr and Helen Nielsen (which notably excluded Starr’s role in the unauthorized destruction of the historic Kaupo School or the opinions of tenants of the longtime Wailuku landlords), Starr and Nielsen presented their case for the controversial Hotel Wailuku, which they plan to develop in partnership. 

The “salon,” one in a series sponsored by Hotel Wailuku, featured a panel with business owners Marc Tolliver and Kristin Holmes, who have also been vocal supporters of the Wailuku Civic Complex and efforts to “revitalize” Wailuku. Starr and Nielsen expressed the as-yet unproven need for a “kama‘aina business hotel” that would house visiting professionals and sports teams, and harkened back to plantation-era Wailuku when a number of hotels were social hubs for the town.

In the final 15 minutes of the salon, audience questions submitted on note cards were selected by April for panelists to answer. “Someone doesn’t like the idea of six stories, can you do it with three stories?” April asked, looking at a blue note card. 

“No,” replied Starr. “The zoning was 12 stories up until 2002 and then one day it was four and not 12, and we never really got the notice,” he responded ambiguously. “We believe there should be more density in that part of town, because that’s the only way to be able to do affordable housing projects and to get the people on the streets that we need.” 

When asked if he would be providing affordable housing for the hotel workforce, Starr answered, “No. I wish we could but there’s really no space and no mechanism to do that.”

“How do you stop Wailuku Town from being overcrowded with tourists?” April asked, reading from another note card.

“We don’t expect there to be very, very many tourists at the hotel. It’s not designed, it’s not branded as a tourist hotel,” Starr said. 

“It’s not a resort!” April ingratiatingly volunteered. 

Starr continued, “It’s really made for business travelers… There might be a couple [tourists], but not very many, so I hope that doesn’t have too much impact.” The idea that no tourists would want to come and stay in Wailuku Town contradicted the hope expressed by panelists that Wailuku become a destination, a place that would give “people a reason to come and a reason to stay.”

After the salon I stood at the balcony with an old-timer who grew up in Wailuku and still lives blocks away from Starr’s Wailuku properties. He told me how he remembered the groundbreaking for resorts in Ka‘anapali, when the roads were a raw bulldozed rocky dirt mess.

“My sister turned to me and she asked, ‘Who would want to stay here?’” he recalled wistfully.

Oh, how times have changed.

As of press time, Akaku did not respond to phone and email inquiries regarding the amount and type of sponsorship Hotel Wailuku is providing for the Spring 2020 Akaku Salon Series.

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