Garapan stakeholders look to Waikiki as possible template

Concepcion: A strong need to revitalize Garapan

The experience of Waikiki and its transformation into a strong tourism hot spot in Hawaii is being looked at as a possible template for the revitalization of Garapan. Toward that end, CNMI stakeholders have brought in two Waikiki experts who could give the CNMI some idea about how to go about it.

Former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann and Waikiki Improvement Association president Rick Egged did a presentation during a stakeholder meeting yesterday about how Waikiki created the Business Improvement District, or BID, which spearheaded efforts to make Waikiki a clean, safe, vibrant resort destination that reflects its Hawaiian heritage.

Office of Planning and Development deputy director Christopher A. Concepcion said they are working with Hannemann and Egged because of their experience.

Hannemann is currently the president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. Egged is president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, which was formed in 2000 to manage the BID.

Concepcion said Hanne-mann and Egged’s expertise is going to help the OPD in forming a similar organization if this is the path CNMI leaders want for Garapan.

“At the end of the day, we need our leaders on Capit[a]l Hill to give us the green light if that’s the way to go forward,” he said.

Hannemann and Egged served as the guest speakers at the stakeholder meeting hosted by OPD, Saipan Zoning Office, and the Garapan Revitalization Task Force at Fiesta Resort & Spa’s Azucena Room. Businessmen, business representatives, some lawmakers and government officials, and community members attended the meeting.

To create and establish a BID here, there should be strong support from business leaders, Egged said. He cautioned, though, that it won’t be easy.

In a later interview, he pointed out that the Garapan Revitalization Plan itself was created in 2007 but there’s been minimal progress in executing that plan. He said the Garapan Revitalization Plan is a good plan and other things could be added to it and creating a BID would be a good mechanism to do that.

He said the BID is a tool for the business community to participate in the planning effort with the CNMI government and thus bring about the revitalization of Garapan.

This is Egged’s third visit to Saipan. He first came in 2013 and returned two years later.

Egged said OPD recently invited him to work on the idea of creating a BID to execute the Garapan revitalization district.

Egged said their association was created in 2000, but it took them 10 years to get to the point that they turned Waikiki around.

Egged said BIDs are common across in the U.S. and they are all different, depending on the needs of a particular area. It is for the business community and the community to decide what kind of BID they want. BID’s, he said, have to be tailored to the community.

“You can do it this way, you can do it that way,” he said.

Hannemann said that revitalizing Garapan is long overdue and creating a BID is an opportunity. He said the BID is a model that they used in Waikiki to create a public-private sector partnership in funding many of the improvements that needed to take place.

He said revitalizing an area creates positive experiences not only for tourists but also for residents.

“Everything that we try to do there is an opportunity to also enhance the residents’ experience, the residents who work in Waikiki, and the those who frequent the area,” he said.

He said BID doesn’t just benefits the hotels but also the numerous small businesses, the retail stores, and restaurants.

“It worked very well in Waikiki,” said the former mayor, adding that his presentation on Saipan is the result of many conversations with TanHoldings president Jerry Tan, the late governor Eloy S. Inos, Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres, and Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios.

“They’re all very strongly supportive of making sure that we put something in place that will lead to a better Garapan, better tourism industry, better quality of life to all the people of the Commonwealth,” he said.

Concepcion said his main task is to focus on the Garapan Revitalization Task Force.

“We see that there is really a strong need to revitalize Garapan—the center of economic activity, the center of the tourism industry in the CNMI,” he said.

Concepcion said Garapan needs to be enhanced, to be clean, to be brought up to par with international standards.

“We need to do that here so that we don’t fall behind other destinations. It’s highly competitive out there,” he said.

The idea is that, if the focus is on Garapan being the main tourism center, they believe that there will be a ripple effect on the rest of the CNMI economy.

“Once you start focusing here, fixing things up, putting in the infrastructure…that kind of positive vibe will spread to the rest of the community,” he said.

Concepcion said everybody is going to benefit from it, not just Garapan and the businesses and the residents in the area. “I think everybody in the CNMI will benefit from it because of the economic activity that will take place,” he said.

Funding is an issue right now and, with the government not having enough resources to pump to Garapan at this time, what the CNMI needs is to tap other sources and not necessarily just the businesses, Concepcion said.

He said there are federal grants that are able to pay for certain projects if dealing with infrastructure.

Since Saipan is much smaller than Waikiki, that area’s experience is something the island can learn from, Concepcion said.

As a resident who has been intimately involved in the CNMI tourism industry for many years, he believes it is important that there are proper sidewalks, curbs, drainages, gutters, landscaping, and lighting in Garapan.

Concepcion said Hannemann and Egged are going to make some recommendations. The Garapan Revitalization Task Force will then be revived, “then make sure that we all come into agreement on something if we’re going to move forward with anything,” he said.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com
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