Amid concerns about squatters, future of dilapidated Hilo hotel still in limbo

The properties have become a haven for squatters.
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 6:02 PM HST|Updated: May. 31, 2022 at 6:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The developer behind the makeover of Hilo’s Grand Naniloa Hotel pleaded with the state Land Board on Tuesday to retain the rights to redevelop two other struggling Hilo properties.

Uncle Billy’s Hotel was badly damaged by a fire earlier this year that’s believed to have been started by squatters.

It’s one of many ongoing problems with the vacant property.

“The weeds are growing over to the Naniloa right now, and the weeds or fires, crime and everything that’s happening, and everyone just doesn’t understand that the Naniloa is suffering because of that,” said developer Ed Bushor, CEO of Tower Development.

“(At) Merrie Monarch, we had to have extra security guards keep the homeless from coming into the Merrie Monarch festivities.”

State land officials want to raze the property, but Bushor sees greater potential for the area, having already seen the turnaround with the Naniloa.

“My commitment is not to make money. My commitment is to improve Banyan Drive for the people of Hilo,” he told the board. “We have become so close with the community. I’m there at Merrie Monarch and they say, ‘When are you gonna help us with Uncle Billy’s? … and I say ‘As soon as DLNR allows us to.’”

Bushor has an agreement with the state to redevelop the Uncle Billy’s site, but because of financial challenges Bushor blamed on the pandemic, state land managers want to cancel the deal. Instead they’re proposing that taxpayers fork over $13.5 million to demolish the property.

“If we approve the staff recommendation, we are giving up the idea of having a private developer redevelop the site,” BLNR member Chris Yuen said.

Those who work in the area say they’re hopeful something will be done about the eyesore.

“With the hotels, and the renovations they’ve done at the Naniloa and Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, they’ve put in a lot of money and have brought up this street, and I wish the rest would follow. It would be nice. It would be nice for everybody,” Banyan Gallery owner Jelena Clay said.

Bushor also defended a similar deal to redevelop the struggling Country Club Condominium, saying the improving economy would give him the ability to find financing and partners to improve the entire Banyan Drive area.

“Banyon Drive is suffering right now. We have crime, fires, homeless. Every day we have crime in front of the Naniloa,” Bushor said.

However, it’s unclear how much patience the board has.

“What’s happening here is that this redevelopment process has been unsuccessful for yeas and so we did finally say we should just tear the thing down. It’s a safety hazard,” Land Board Chair Suzanne Case said.

The board voted to defer the decision to cancel the deal, leaving it open for future discussion.

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