Maui welcomes, copes with developers

Large, busy cranes are hovering over Maui's majestic beaches. But these aren't the bright-feathered, long-legged variety. They are the construction type, some of them hoisting steel beams and cement six days a week. They are helping to complete the island's numerous major hotel projects. One of the hottest building areas on this Hawaiian island of 88,000 residents is along the Wailea coastline, 15 miles south of Kahului, Maui's main city. In the next two years, the number of resort hotel rooms in Wailea will almost triple, to 2,547 from the current 910.

In addition, several condominium projects are under way, joining the hundreds already here and in adjoining Kihei. The latest project is a 150-unit condominium, with prices ranging from $335,000 to $510,000, on 17 ocean-view acres.

It's quite a contrast from 12 years ago when the first Wailea Hotel - the 560-unit Maui Inter-Continental - opened in what was then a relatively undeveloped area. It was followed by the Stouffer Wailea Beach Resort, with 350 rooms.

Elsewhere on the island, the Kaanapali-Kapalua section on the island's northwest side will be adding 1,265 resort hotel rooms in an area where most of the island's current 14,600 units are. They include the Embassy Suites Kaanapali, Amfac's North Beach project, and the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.

But Wailea is where the action is. Three major resort projects will soon join the Maui Inter-Continental and Stouffer hotels (in addition to the existing 310-unit Maui Prince, three miles south at Makena). The resorts expected to open next year are the Grand Hyatt and the Four Seasons, followed by another Embassy Suites.

The big attractions? As one nine-year resident explained: ``We have the best of two worlds - the charm of old Hawaii and ultramodern, plush hotels and restaurants to pamper visitors.'' Other lures include crescent-shaped, white sand beaches; the 36-hole Wailea golf course with its $1 million clubhouse; the newer 18-hole Silversword golf course in Kihei; a warm, sunny climate, with only about 10 inches of rain a year, all against a backdrop of 10,023-foot Haleakala, a dormant volcano.

But the rush of development doesn't please everyone. Officials now face problems of transportation, power, and sewage.

At Kahului Airport, the first phase in a $70 million expansion project is under way. The airport is Hawaii's second busiest, with more than 400 daily flights from the United States mainland and elsewhere. The project includes an expanded lobby, a new two-story central building, a concourse and holding area, and a second main runway.

Vehicular congestion in West Maui is also becoming a problem. Traffic lights near Lahaina back up vehicles on the main artery, giving it a Los Angeles rush-hour flavor in late afternoons, so a fourth lane on Honoapiilani Highway is scheduled for completion in 1990. There are also plans to require new resorts to use vans and buses to pick up guests at the airport, says Chris Hart, Maui's director of planning.

The growth has also put a burden on the island's utilities. Maui Electric Company saw an 8 percent growth in output in the last two years, which jumped another 10 percent in the first five months this year, boosted by hot weather, developments, and tourists. As recently as late September, Maui experienced rolling blackouts, with 15-minute interruptions in some areas, because of higher electrical demand.

Sewage disposal facilities are running near capacity and are stalling some projects. Maui must draft a waste water treatment plan before the state will approve new building permits in the Kihei-Wailea area. The estimated price to expand the sewage treatment plant is $4 million.

More service-job openings will contribute to a tighter labor market on Maui, which already had an unemployment rate of just 3.2 percent in May, according to the First Hawaiian Bank in Honolulu. Difficulties in finding help have become so severe that late last year the Westin Maui Hotel at Kaanapali ferried 66 workers from the nearby island of Molokai. Others businesses quickly copied the idea.

Rental housing is also tight. Hotel developers are being asked to provide one employee housing unit for every six new hotel rooms, Mr. Hart says.

New hotel rooms will be putting pressure on occupancy rates. The Bank of Hawaii in Honolulu sees a decline in the state's hotel and condominium occupancy rates that started last year and continued through the first half of this year. Maui recorded a 76.1 percent occupancy rate in this year's first five months, off 6 percent from the same period last year.

An eye is also being kept on visitor arrivals, which leveled off to 5.8 million last year from 5.6 million in 1986, after a larger gain from the 4.9 million in 1985. So dependent is Hawaii on tourism that the Bank of Hawaii calculates that a 10 percent drop in visitors in one year would amount to a $570 million decline in retail sales - exceeding the annual value of Hawaii's sugar industry.

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