Using a $11.2-million grant from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the long-awaited Garapan Revitalization Plan is taking off, modelled after the success of Waikiki in Hawaii, one of the most popular tourist destination in the planet.
This is the vision that prompted the Office of Planning and Development to work with former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann and his partners, Rick Egged and Greg Hirata, in 2019 to point the task force in the right direction, according to OPD deputy director Chris Concepcion.
He conceded that billions of dollars were spent to transform Waikiki into what it is today and that is money the CNMI doesn’t have. “It’s Hawaii so they have the money and we don’t, but thankfully we are much of a smaller scale than Waikiki, so we think it’s manageable,” he said. That includes building sidewalks in Garapan and getting rid of unorganized parking curbs, among others.
Part of how Waikiki did it is it created the Waikiki Improvement District Association that turned into an improvement district where businesses pay into a fund that takes care of daily trash collection, landscaping, upkeep and maintenance, and minor repair of roads and sidewalks, etc.
“Ultimately, the plan is to turn Garapan into a ‘Community Improvement District,’ a non-profit organization composed of commercial establishments in the area that makes it a special zone dedicated to the management, upkeep, and sustenance of Garapan,” he said.
Concepcion said this undertaking needs to be created through the legislative process, with the CID governed by a board of directors composed of members from the business community and the government. “We want to target stakeholders particularly the business community who are invested in this endeavor. …We want them to have majority voting so they can control the vote and their money,” he said.
Having a CID, though, won’t absolve the government of its responsibility as it will still be responsible for infrastructure in the area. “Garapan’s development is really the combined work of private and public entities,” he said.
The GRTF initial studies have found that some commercial properties have encroached on public land or built right up their property line. “They essentially blocked themselves out from having their own parking. If they want their own parking, they would have to design it and integrate it within their property…Since we want to add more parking spaces in Garapan, we are going to put street parking…that is built in an organized and straight manner. …This will invite more people—residents and tourists alike—to go to Garapan and help the place get back the reputation of being the center of the tourism industry,” Concepcion said.
As for the Paseo de Marianas itself and the idea of turning it back into a street, Concepcion said they are looking at creating a hybrid, when it can function as a street and then closed off on certain days for community events like the Christmas at the Marianas or the Thursday Street Market. “I think it’s very possible as we see it in other countries, other locations in the world, and it’s beautiful,” Concepcion added.
He knows how big this undertaking will be, especially since the construction timeline is three years but his team remains focused. “It’s for the betterment of the CNMI.
“Garapan has seen its glory days but we want to reinvigorate that,” he said. “We want to bring back those good days where we have thousands of tourists arriving, walking around on a daily basis, and spending money that builds our economy and tax revenue that enables the government to fulfill obligations. …The revitalization plan will be in phases and go street by street, which is the standard in the construction process because we don’t want to disrupt businesses,” he added.