Boycotts and protests: those were two ideas floated by East Oahu residents who turned out by the hundreds at a townhall meeting Tuesday night at Kaiser High School to share their anger and frustration over the planned closure of their favorite local grocery store, Foodland – Hawaii Kai.
That Foodland was opened by the company founder, Maurice Sullivan, almost 50 years ago. “Sully”, as he was called fondly, is deceased, but his wife, 90, shared the story of the store’s opening with her daughter, Jenai Sullivan Wall, who now runs the company, so she could share it with the crowd. Wall said Foodland wants to stay open in that 33,000 square foot space but the center’s owner did not accept their final bid.
There was some dispute over what happened in private lease negotiations.
The shopping center management company, which did not send a representative, first claimed in the media that Foodland walked away from negotiations.
Wall said Foodland did no such thing and talked about its offer to invest $3 million in store renovations and its competitive bid to keep the space.
In a written statement, Koko Marina Shopping Center management said: “Over the past two years, we have been trying to keep Foodland at our center. In the end, a final contract that was agreeable to both parties couldn’t be reached. We don’t understand why the blame has been placed strictly on one side. Without divulging the confidential lease negotiations between Foodland and Sofos Realty which handles leasing for Koko Marina Center, too many concessions / burdens were to be placed on the Center. It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to accept the proposal, but rather not being able to accept it.”
Wall, who spoke to a vocal and supportive crowd, said she still hopes to be able to either remain where it is or share half the space with WalGreens.
While two of the four partners who own the shopping center wanted Foodland to stay, Abraham Keh, who reportedly owns 75 percent of the Koko Marina Shopping Center, wanted to replace the local grocery store with a mainland chain.
Local residents say the supermarket’s closure will leave them with just one supermarket, Safeway. If that happens, they expect Safeway’s prices will increase, their shopping options will decrease, elderly and disabled shoppers who walk to Foodland will not be able to travel further to get food, and in a crisis, such as a tsunami or hurricane, there will not be enough food for the community. Some even talked about their plans to boycott WalGreen should it be opened there. “We can’t eat bandaids,” some said in protest.
A farmers’ union representative also talked about his appreciation for Foodland supporting local farmers in the area by buying local produce to offer to their customers.
Many residents who spoke in favor of the store remaining open in the center have been shopping at Foodland Hawaii Kai for five decades. More than 2,300 people from the close-knit community signed a petition in favor of Foodland remaining.
“It will be very sad to have to close a store,” Wall said. “This is not something we want to do.”
The townhall was organized by Sen. Sam Slom and Rep. Gene Ward, both who are Republicans representing East Oahu in the Hawaii state legislature. Slom noted that the event was held not to target anyone, rather to allow the community to ask questions and express concerns about what is happening in their neighborhood.
It was one of the issues that most divided the Hawaii community: the Hawaii Superferry.
Hawaii Superferry Inc. had commissioned the Huakai and Alakai, both 300-foot-long ferries, to carry more than 800 passengers as fast as 35 knots.
Environmentalists argued it would bring death and destruction to Hawaii’s sea life and neighbor islanders didn’t want those city folks from Honolulu to bring their cars over and add to the traffic and trash.
Superferry supporters said the business would unite the islands, allow families and businesses a more affordable way to travel and give people a choice for traveling inter-island.
But the environmentalists won that battle in court in 2009 when the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered that an environmental impact study be done to determine the ships’ impact on the state.
The company gave up the fight and closed its doors two months later. The company also filed for bankruptcy, leaving two Maritime Administration loans with $136.8 million in outstanding debt, and two other loans with the ships’ manufacturers for $22.9 million. The Maritime Administration eventually purchased the boats with the debt owed by the Superferry.
And now the two ships, built for an estimated $190 million in 2004, are being auctioned off by the U.S. Maritime Administration. Bids must be submitted by 5 p.m. July 20.
J.F. Lehman & Co., a company established by former Navy Secretary John F. Lehman, lost an $85 million investment on the Hawaii Superferry deal.
Bond Recipient Donates to Governor’s Campaign
A company that recently won the governor’s approval to float $100 million in special purpose revenue bonds donated $2,500 to the governor’s inaugural fund late last year, records show.
BioEnergy Hawaii LLC is authorized to issue the bonds under a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie late last month.
Hawaii Democratic Party chairman Dante Carpenter has a business interest in BioEnergy Hawaii and in another company that received a separate $40 million bond authorization from Abercrombie and the Legislature.
A news story published by Hawaii Reporter last week detailed the bond measures.
An earlier news story published in February listed the donors to Abercrombie’s inauguration fund.