OPINION: Giganta Mall – Son of Superferry

February 3, 2012, 10:10 AM HST · Updated February 6, 4:22 PM
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By Susan Halas

outlet mall from air showing location kihei

"Giganta Outlet Mall" may be coming to Kihei. This image from the developer's website indicates the proposed location. There are many opinions both for and against this project. Courtesy image.

Mauians learned last week that a 700,000 sq ft outlet mall is slated to be built mauka of the Piilani Highway in Kihei. According to recent reports this project has received its entitlements and is about to proceed with construction.

The news generated substantial comment both favorable and unfavorable.

The arguments in favor

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Those who support the new project, dubbed “Giganta Mall,” pointed to:

Jobs for local residents and other improvements paid for by the developer Eclipse Development Group of Irvine, CA to the tune of an estimated $200 million.

Advocates say the willingness of private investors to take risk on this scale should be encouraged. It provides jobs and opportunities. It expands the economic base. It creates a hard asset of lasting value.

They think that those willing to make an investment on that scale in this community and who do it in a legal manner should be congratulated and applauded rather than pecked-at, harassed and disparaged.

Something that Maui already uses and likes.

Further they point out that other such large stores have indeed been not only successful, but beneficial.

Maui embraced Costco. The resident population Costco membership is said to be above 90%.

When Costco came to Maui it changed and improved the quality of life here. It has had a favorable impact on the availability of formerly scarce goods at reasonable prices.

The supporters of the new mall argue that the impact of creating the largest outlet-store mall in the state (more than double the size of the existing Waikele Mall on Oahu) will give residents and visitors more choices, more diversity, and more opportunity.

In light of the benefits they say the risks to the community are negligible.

Containment of effluent

On the environmental side, the supporters point out that upgrades to codes and engineering standards require that waste-water, and other kinds of by-products generated by acres of asphalt, and thousands of cars, will be contained on site.

More energy efficiency and upgrades still possible

They further suggest that while this project is almost ready to break ground, there are still energy efficiencies and other kinds of engineering wizardry that can make it more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The folks who want this project to happen say it is not unreasonable to expect that additional environmental improvement will be done because they are good for the project, good for the bottom line, and good for the long term viability of a valuable asset.

Public notice and comment was adequate

Just how much public comment is sufficient, the supporters inquire?

Do they, the developers, need to ask every man, woman and child on the island? In the state? How much is enough?

No ground would ever be broken, no holes would ever be dug, no concrete would ever be poured if the comment and reviews become so protracted that nothing ever actually gets built.

Put those arguments together and they sound pretty compelling.

That is, of course, until the other side has its say.

The arguments against “Giganta Mall”

Lack of review and comment

Primary among the objections to this project is the stealth approach taken by its developers. Until the announcement that it was good-to-go, very little was known or discussed about the impact or suitability of this use of a very large site.

How can it be ready to break ground if this is the first the community hears of it?

A project of this size and scale – one that will permanently alter the landscape of Kihei and will be a fundamental part of the built-environment for the next 50 years deserves, nay requires, broader public review and comment than it has so-far received.

This scrutiny seems to be absent.

Dated design concept

A second objection is to the overall design concept. It is so, if you will, dated. They argue that the big box mall as a staging area for big discount retail stores, ringed by the even bigger parking lot is an idea whose time has come and gone.

All across America this kind of property has taken a hit. These malls are not environmentally friendly. In the internet age they are dinosaurs. If you were going to put some thing big and bold on Maui, and were willing to pour big bucks into it, why would you look back to the least attractive reincarnation of retro-retail for a model? It’s passé. It’s so over.

Current design concepts put more emphasis on pedestrian-friendly spaces. The creation of a more inviting and intimate environment is seen as a worthy goal.

Other negatives

Big asphalt generates big run-off; big boxes generate high energy consumption; large paved areas have significant deflected heat, light and noise.

A mall of this scale, they say, when put together with the planned Kihei High School next door, and planned nearby housing, will overwhelm the capabilities of the adjacent Pi’ilani Highway.

And last but not least, the addition of ever more big boxes takes even more money away from local businesses and ships it out to national and international absentee landlords.

Ugly is forever

Say the opponents: The construction jobs are short term, the new retail jobs are low pay, but the uglification and blight on the landscape is permanent.

And that’s the talk that’s going ’round the coffee shops and breakfast tables of Maui Nei: two sides and not too much in the middle.

Son of Superferry?

If this all sounds a wee bit familiar, you were probably here for Superferry. Did you notice that it also took a cart-before-the horse approach and that all paths were made straight to put it on the proverbial fast track?

And did all that speed help? Not a bit.

The attempt to side-step review in the name of achieving a desirable end goal generated monumental objections. When the EIS and other procedures for comment and discussion were leap-frogged, it made people who might have otherwise supported the Superferry turn against it and be doubtful of the motives of those who advocated it.

By the time it was all over, millions had been spent on harbor improvements, only to have the whole project abort in a very short time. All that money went down the drain.

It turned out a lot of people who initially were not very receptive to the idea eventually came around and actually liked the Superferry once it was here.

Then they realized what it was and what the benefits could be.

But by that time the whole scenario was so poisonous and done so-ass backwards that it could not be saved.

In the absence of a Plan B all that money, energy, time, planning, lawyer-ing, PR-ing and legislating had zero positive results and multiple long term negative consequences. The Superferry went down the rabbit hole to oblivion.

Do we really want to go down that road again? Couldn’t we learn something from that experience? Do we have to make the same mistakes over and over?

The new outlet mall in Kihei is on a grand scale. It deserves adequate public comment, deserves to be reviewed and deserves to be looked at in the context of decades ahead, and the larger scheme of things.

Couldn’t we do the review before we dig the hole?

Wouldn’t it probably lead to the same outcome, but won’t we get a better deal for everybody if we do it by the book?

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