HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's the pride of Hilo and officials say the Merrie Monarch now has a venue worthy of its international acclaim.
"That everybody walks away from this 50th annual Merrie Monarch Festival saying 'Wow! What a special place, what a special celebration, I'm glad I was there!' and that's our goal," said Hawai'i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.
From visitors to vendors to returning dancers, officials say the makeover at Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium has something for everyone. The entryway was widened with more room to accommodate the 5,000 plus crowd. The concession stand was expanded and extra counter space now features several outlets and sinks. In addition to tripling the number of bathroom stalls for women, dressing rooms for the dancers will also constructed. It's been a tradition at Merrie Monarch for decades for dancers to prepare under the bleachers. Several halaus will still have to get ready there, but no longer in the gravel-- the entire area has been upgraded with cement sidewalks.
Mayor Kenoi says it was a $3.4 million investment worth making.
"The last few years have been incredibly challenging economically across the nation, throughout the state, but certainly here on Hawai'i Island. The Merrie Monarch Festival gives everyone an opportunity to benefit from the multiplier effect. We see increased flights, increased capacity in our hotels-- and that benefit translates to restaurants and our small businesses, our Farmer's Markets, our craft fairs-- everybody participates in this economic boom," said Mayor Kenoi.
In just three short months-- a joint effort by contractors, Hawai'i County employees and community volunteers transformed the Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium.
"Everybody said, 'How can we help?' and that's what makes Hawai'i so special -- is that spirit of cooperation and collaboration," explained Mayor Kenoi.
The stadium isn't the only venue to get an upgrade. The entire Ho'olulu Complex, along with the Butler buildings were re-done and the Civic Auditorium was re-painted. Officials say maintenance repairs at the Waikea Recreation Center were completed.
"The Merrie Monarch Festival and what it represents has allowed us through a collaborative, cooperative way to get the community to take ownership and not just invest in infrastructure for the Merrie Monarch Festival, because it will be a benefit to residents year-round, but the Merrie Monarch Festival was an important part -- an important impetus for us to get this work done," said Mayor Kenoi.
Back at Edith Kanaka'ole, organizers are completing last-minute finishing touches, but say they're ready for Merrie Monarch.
"It's the best that Hawai'i has to offer in music, in hula, in culture and arts-- they're all in Hilo for a week," described Mayor Kenoi. "At the end of the day, we're all just very humbled by it and local style is to give more than you receive-- so our community stands ready to certainly give more than the tremendous benefit that we receive."