By Tommy Noyes
The January 2017 notice in the Lihu‘e Post Office lobby stating “This property … is no longer necessary for postal operations” precipitated a determined coalition. Postal administrators soon found themselves on the receiving end of federal, state and county political pressure, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, polls, letters and post cards, and more than a hundred Kaua‘i coconuts mailed to their mainland offices.
“It is the prime mail service for our residential and business community, located within the heart of Lihu‘e, easily and readily accessible to all,” said Ka‘aina Hull, County of Kaua‘i Planning Director. “It is also a historically symbolic link between the federal government and the local community, and it remains as Kauaʻi’s first federally constructed post office.”
Lihu‘e Business Association President Pat Griffin conveyed a preservationist’s protective regard for this historical asset:
“Since the facility opened in 1939 — it was the first standalone post office on Kaua‘i — this main post office in the County has held pride of place in the center of Līhu‘e, the county seat, the heart of Kaua‘i.
“The Spanish Mediterranean-style building complements its National Register neighbors, the Kaua‘i Museum and the Lihu‘e Civic Center Historic District which encompasses the County Building, the former Hawai‘i Territorial Building (now serving as county Election Services), the grand entry park in front of the two buildings, and the former courthouse, recently rehabilitated for state offices.”
Was the federally funded Rice Street area construction a factor?
“Yes. The TIGER Grant stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Revitalization,” Hull said. “For some time now, there has been a recognition of the connection between safe street infrastructure and commercial re-development. The Federal Government recognized the potential plans the Lihu‘e community adopted for this area, and based on that potential awarded Kauai several million dollars to do those roadway improvements; however, retaining our anchor tenants — such as the Post Office — in this area to work synergistically with the TIGER improvements is important in re-vitalizing Rice Street and drawing more businesses and developments back to the area.”
Those deserving recognition include, but is not limited to: Gov. David Ige, U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, State Senate President Ron Kouchi, State Rep. James Tokioka, former Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Pat Griffin and the entire Lihu‘e Business Association, Kiersten Faulkner and the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, current Mayor Derek Kawakami, and the many, many people who attended meetings and sent over a thousand communications.
What can other communities learn from our experience?
“Collaborate with as many parties as possible,” Hull said. “Much of the desire to move the Post Office — even when the County was offering to find solutions to the parking problems the Lihu‘e Post Office has had over the years — seemed to be driven from postal offices on the Mainland. Maintaining a concerted and united front with our public and private partnerships proved vitally important, ensuring that decision makers not only heard our objections, but truly took them into consideration.”
- Tommy Noyes is Kaua‘i Path’s executive director, a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor and active with the Kaua‘i Medical Reserve Corps.