Waimea’s field of dreams


HILO — Waimea’s own field of dreams, first promised more than 20 years ago, could soon become more than just a concept.

A $5.9 million funding request — the first to provide money for ground breaking on the proposed 24-acre Waimea District Park — has been made to the state Legislature, while another budget request is being prepared for the Hawaii County Council.

A schedule for construction has not been set, though work could occur during the 2013-2014 fiscal year if the money is allocated.

The county needs about $13 million to complete the first part of phase one — which includes football and rugby fields that can also double as soccer fields — said Parks and Recreation spokesman Jason Armstrong. The park would be located on Parker Ranch land north of the Waimea-Kohala Airport.

The funding being requested would also provide for an access road to the park off Ala Ohia Road.

Upon full buildout, the park would also include a baseball field, multiuse building and gymnasium. The park, which would be built in phases, had a total price tag of about $25 million in 2009.

Parks and Recreation’s funding request to the council for the next fiscal year, beginning in July, will depend on how much the state allocates.

If it doesn’t provide funding, the department’s request will be for the entire $13 million it needs to begin work, Armstrong said.

On Thursday, the state Senate’s Water and Land Committee held a hearing on the proposed allocation. Support was high among testifiers, said state Sen. Malama Solomon, who introduced the funding bill and chairs the committee.

So far, it has received written testimony from 147 people, all in support, thanks to a well-organized community effort, she said.

“I think we’re probably going to be well over 200 once it is all said and done,” said Solomon, D-North Hawaii.

No action was taken, but the committee voiced unanimous support for the bill, she said.

A vote to forward it to the Ways and Means Committee will be held Tuesday.

The district park was first proposed in 1992 as part of a zoning change deal between the county and Parker Ranch for the Waimea Town Center. As a condition, the ranch agreed to set aside the 24 acres for a park.

Momentum began to build about six years ago when park supporters formed the Waimea District Park Builders at the request of the Waimea Community Association.

The group began to lobby the county for funding, and a master planning process began shortly afterward.

The plan lists the potential of expanding it into a regional park with the addition of four more ball fields. That would require the acquisition of another 26 acres of ranch land.

Waimea and the South Kohala District as a whole is in dire need of new recreational facilities, park supporters say.

In her testimony to the committee, Waimea Recreation Director Melissa Samura said the town has one softball field and two small practice fields.

Softball, Little League, tee ball, football, soccer and rugby teams all share the same field, she said.

“Changing the field by moving the bases, taking out or putting back in pitcher’s mounds, adding or removing striping in the outfield is a common event,” Samura wrote to the committee.

Along with a flurry of written testimony, Mel Macy, of Waimea District Park Builders, and representatives from the county’s consultant, PBR Hawaii, also provided a presentation to the committee.

“We’re a long ways from getting it but we feel really positive right now that it’s going to move ahead,” Macy said.

“Our group is going to stay on it,” he said.

Though promised to the county, the land isn’t in its hands just yet.

Armstrong said Parks and Recreation is preparing to subdivide and reconsolidate the land in order to formally receive it from Parker Ranch.

“We’re talking 24 acres that’s part of a larger parcel that has to be separated out,” he said.

That work is expected to be done shortly, though it will likely require County Council approval.

“It is an important project and we are making progress and moving toward its realization,” Armstrong said.