Waikiki’s Best Friends
Wednesday - April 16, 2008
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By Rick Egged
President of Waikiki Improvement Association
I have been with the Waikiki Improvement Association (WIA) for the past nine years, happy to have a job supporting the community I love. WIA is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to making Waikiki a great place to invest, work, live and play. For almost 40 years - our anniversary is in October - WIA has worked with public officials, battled in the courts, lobbied in the Legislature, cleaned the beach, patrolled the streets of Waikiki, produced events for the community and much more.
Its members represent the major stakeholders in Waikiki - businesses of all types - the visitor industry, property owners and professionals. As the leading advocate for Waikiki, they work in partnership with business and government to identify needs, develop strategies, shape public policy and implement programs to strengthen the physical and economic vitality of Waikiki and its role in the state’s economy.
I have been witness to dramatic changes in the landscape since coming to WIA - both in the business and the community sectors. I have walked in the almost-empty streets of post-9/11, and have been grateful to see the return of the crowds on Kalakaua Avenue’s bustling sidewalks. I know that problems with homelessness have slowly increased in recent years, but I have seen a uniting of the city, Waikiki stakeholders and community organizations to find solutions. I have seen an aging Waikiki become revitalized in recent months, embraced by kamaaina and malihini alike, thanks to well-planned new or upgraded projects.
Waikiki also has seen a return to our host culture with hula performance taking place throughout Waikiki, the completion of the Waikiki Historic Trail, and hotel and shopping centers offering various classes to visitors including hula, ukulele, quilting, lauhala weaving, feather lei making, history and even Hawaiian language. WIA supports bringing the true host culture into Waikiki, as today’s visitors are seeking a deeper knowledge of Hawaii’s culture and history, a more meaningful experience. WIA produced the first International Waikiki Hula Conference last November, with hundreds of attendees coming from all over Hawaii and the world to learn from our master Hawaiian cultural practitioners. We are currently finalizing plans for this year’s conference after last year’s success, and may even expand with more frequent programs.
Shortly after 9/11, the city and WIA started Sunset on the Beach as a way to get more local people into Waikiki. It worked, and still stands as a popular monthly event that attracts thousands - more than 50 percent kamaaina - even though the devastating effects of 9/11 are long gone. Mayor Mufi Hannemann has emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships to run events such as Sunset on the Beach, and we have been fortunate to have companies including Hawaiian Telcom and, in 2007 and 2008, Tesoro Hawaii step up to the plate with the major title sponsorship. We also have our third annual Waikiki By Moonlight block party coming up May 31, and have partnered with the city and others in other major events such as the NFL Pro Bowl Block Party and the recent Parade of Champions honoring our local athletes. It is particularly gratifying to see so many local folks in the crowd at each event, as Waikiki is not just a place for visitors, but for us, too! Tens of thousands of us work and live here, and many others come to Waikiki to play - at restaurants, clubs, showrooms and malls, and, of course, our world-famous beach.
I have always believed that Waikiki is a special place to live, work and play. I am here every day and also live in the area. I know the residents and work with Mayor Hannemann, Waikiki businesses and community organizations to keep Waikiki a place we can all be proud of.
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