Oahu's only box car track may close after city revokes permit

Oahu's only box car track may close after city revokes permit
Published: Feb. 13, 2015 at 9:55 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2015 at 3:46 PM HST
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KUNIA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The only box car track on Oahu may have to close at the end of the month because the city has revoked its permit to operate on city land in Kunia.

The city wants other nonprofit groups -- along with the box car organization -- to have the chance to bid on using the property.

There are two box car tracks on the two-acre property in back of the Kunia park and ride facility along with three smaller tracks for remote-control race cars.

"Our program fees are below our operating costs. And that's intentional. We have a lot of volunteers who come in and donate time, material, whatever, to keep it going," said B.C. Cowling, executive director of American Box Car Racing International, the nonprofit that has operated the track there for more than 10 years.

Cowling said his group has put more than $1 million in improvements at the site over the last decade at no cost to city taxpayers and charges $9 for first-timers to spend four hours on the box car course and $295 for large parties of up to 35 people for birthdays and other events.

"We're here for the kids and families on Oahu and we're really wondering about what's being thought in the administration to just clear us out of here," Cowling said.

Cowling was shocked when the city sent him a notice terminating the nonprofit's revocable permit and giving the group 30 days to clear out at the end of this month.

"Granting revocable permits on an annual basis to the same entity is something that the city shouldn't be involved in,” said Deputy City Budget Director Gary Kurokawa. “We need to make it open."

Kurokawa said the city wants to solicit bids from the box car group and other nonprofits because it has an obligation to open up city land to competitive bidding.

The city has charged the box car group $250 a month rent, plus it's responsible for weed-whacking and maintaining the Kunia park and ride, and emptying the trash.

The box car group recently fell behind on its rent, but settled up by paying the city $1,800 last November.

"So we need to not only find a way to work it out with the city, we also need a new partner to join us to help manage and fund this place. With the right marketing, it can get back on its feet," Cowling said.

Kurokawa said he's open to allowing the box car group to remain at the property temporarily, while it and other nonprofits prepare proposals for the site, but Cowling's group needs to agree to certain conditions.

"We can do a short-term just to carry over, but eventually, we have to understand that there is going to be an open, competitive process for a concession," Kurokawa said. "We do understand the situation with the box car group and we really would like to work with them to figure out what is the best course of action for the city and for American Box Car."

The site was conveyed to the city by developer Herbert Horita in 1991, Kurokawa said, in exchange for zoning approvals for a housing development in Royal Kunia. A memorandum of agreement called for the land to be used for a park and ride and a child care center. The child care center never materialized and the box car track was built on the land that had been set aside for the child care facility.

The box car nonprofit went through a competitive bidding process and the city awarded the site for $1-per-year rent in 2004 as part of a five-year contract, Cowling said.

When the first contract expired in 2009, the group asked when a new request for proposals would be issued and Cowling said the city didn't respond. In 2010, the city wanted to increase the group's rent to $1,750 a month, plus other conditions, which the group fought, saying it could not afford requirements to stay open seven days a week instead of three.

The city later lowered rent to $500 a month and, last year, reduced it further to $250 a month, including the maintenance of the park and ride, Cowling said.

The group's website is boxcarracing.org.

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