Article 93

Makiki debates museum plan
(May 24, 2004)

Neighbor and actor Richard Chamberlain joins the discussion on proposed growth

Makiki Heights residents gathered yesterday to raise both concerns and support for the Contemporary Museum's expansion plans, which would allow for more visitors and larger fund-raisers.

Some attendees said that the proposed changes would increase noise in the quiet community and create a hazard by increasing traffic on the winding Makiki Heights Drive. But others welcomed the proposals, saying the museum should be able to grow.

"We have a world-class museum here in Honolulu," said resident Martin Rabbett. "Yes, they're going to be building this. It comes with the territory. But the big picture is what this museum brings to us all."

The museum, on five acres of land in upper Makiki, is under a conditional use permit drafted in 1986 that allows the site to operate as a commercial property despite the area's residential zoning.

Officials hope to apply for revisions to that permit by September. The changes would include building a three-story structure to accommodate exhibits, store the museum's 2,400 artworks and provide 21 spaces for staff members in an underground parking lot.

Administrators are also proposing to extend the museum's operating hours on Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., increase its daily occupancy by 20 people to 100 and allow six evening functions annually for no more than 300 people.

Additionally, they would like to offer one evening event until midnight annually for 500 people, give up to 12 after-hours events each year for no more than 100 people and extend the cafe's hours.

More than 50 residents attended the two-hour meeting yesterday afternoon at Roosevelt High School to hear the museum's plans and voice their support or opposition.

"I think there were some really valid concerns," said Contemporary Museum Director Georgianna Lagoria. "We firmly believe that what we propose will have a very minimal impact."

Officials had wanted to apply for revisions to the museum's permit conditions as early as next month. But after local boards raised concerns, the application date was pushed back so that the community would be able to comment on the changes.

"What we're concerned about," said Makiki Heights Community Association President Bob Laguens, "is the major impact this expansion is going to have."

The association was formed 18 years ago specifically to oversee the museum's conditional use permit.

"We're not saying to move," said Ray Sasaki, who is also a member of the group. "We're saying to stay the way you are. ... They're (the museum) doing this for one reason: To attract more people. All of these people will impact the traffic of Makiki Heights."

Makiki resident Debbi Putnam said she wants the museum in her community, but "I do feel that if it wants to continue to grow, their site may not be appropriate."

At one point during the meeting, discussion between those who were against the changes and those who support them got heated. That's when actor Richard Chamberlain, who recently moved to Makiki Heights Drive, spoke up.

"In my book, the museum gets the good neighbor award on many levels," Chamberlain said. "The museum is such a community asset and it's kept up so well. It seems to me that the more friendly this discussion can be, the better. Because there's no enemy here."

Makiki Heights resident Mindy Tucker agreed.

"Can you imagine what the face of the neighborhood would look like if they were to leave us," she asked. "I don't feel that what our neighbor, the museum, is planning is exorbitant."

Lagoria said the museum's officials are still in the planning stages on the changes, and are open to hearing suggestions.

"We feel that the scale of the plans are in concert with the heart of the neighborhood," she added. "Education is really core to who we are. And there's a great need in our community for art education."

Jodi Endicott was one of a few artists who attended the meeting. She told residents to remember that though late-night fund-raisers at the museum may disturb their quiet, they benefit those whose work is displayed at the site.

"I got my degree at the university, but I really got my education at the museum," she said. "They (the museum) are greatly supporting artists."

2004 Mary Vorsino