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Enthusiasm flows during Puna Kai groundbreaking

Updated: 
October 13, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — Despite a heavy downpour, more than 300 people came out Thursday for the Puna Kai shopping center groundbreaking in Pahoa.

“I’m very, very happy for this,” said Puna resident Leimomi Bartlow, a school paraprofessional.

She said her whole family’s excited because they love Pahoa and want to support the community. Her son is a farm worker in Puna and her husband is a charter-school custodian. They all want Puna Kai to succeed so jobs will flourish, making it easier for families such as theirs to stay in the district.

“This is why I’m here — to give my blessing and I really, really appreciate it,” Bartlow said.

Puna Kai will have a 10-foot overhang at every storefront. Even shops that aren’t restaurants will have outside seating, designed to offer a “sense of place.”

A wetlands area is planned with walkways as part of an environmentally friendly wastewater reclamation system, said Jon McElvaney, one of the original developers who sold the property to current developer Gary Pinkston.

Puna Kai has been a dream in Pahoa since at least 2013, when planners first began working to develop the shopping center. In the months ahead, the 103,600-square-foot shopping center will take shape, and that has residents excited about the potential for additional economic development.

“I think it’s good for the Pahoa people. We need something like this,” said Jade Holt, a guard with Aloha Security who directed traffic during gushing rain during the groundbreaking.

Attendees got to taste sushi and pizza that will be available when the shopping center’s stores eventually begin to open, which is estimated for mid- to late 2018.

Paula Medeiros, co-owner of Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill, plans to bring her personal touch to her new store at Puna Kai.

She said her nephew will continue to oversee the Kona restaurant, and she will operate the one in Pahoa.

“This is going to be my baby,” she said.

Rain or shine, the shopping center will be great for sit-down dining, Medeiros said.

“It’s the Big Island. So we’re used to the rain,” she said. “I think it’s going to be perfect. People tend to go out and eat when it rains.”

Puna Kai is something new and different for Pahoa, said Kamalani Guba, who helped set up tables and serve beverages alongside Shan-Lee Parks and several other cadets from the Youth Challenge Academy.

Both teens, graduating in December, are from Puna.

“I feel like it’s something we need because Pahoa doesn’t have a lot of what we need, a lot of opportunities,” Guba said.

“We have a lot of homeless here,” Bartlow said separately. “We want to get the homeless working — I’m excited.”

The shopping center, at the intersection of Kahakai Boulevard and Pahoa Village Road, will be owned and managed by Meridian Pacific, an investment and development company with offices in Honolulu and San Francisco.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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