By Léo Azambuja
Almost five years ago, the Kaua‘i County Council opened its weekly meeting before an audience occupying pretty much every seat at the Council Chambers in the Historic County Building in Lihu‘e.
On the agenda was an item pertaining to a 99-year lease of a 3.5-acre piece of land just west of the YMCA in Puhi; all for $1 a year. Prior to the council’s roll-call vote, then-Chair Jay Furfaro said he hoped it would be a unanimous decision. And that’s exactly what happened, causing the audience to erupt in applause after the last of the seven ayes were heard.
That was how the Kaua‘i Philippine Cultural Center secured its land in July 2012. Actually, part of it; later, Grove Farm Company leased another 11.5 acres of land to the project, also at a symbolic rate.
Two years before that historic day, when Lesther Calipjo had become the president of the Kaua‘i Filipino Chamber of Commerce, he had planted the seed for KPCC, pitching for his peers for the first time a project that had been brewing in the minds of many on Kaua‘i’s Filipino community.
During that council meeting five years ago, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura called Calipjo’s vision “tantalizing,” adding it was about perpetuating the Filipino culture.
Right, it was tantalizing, being that it meant alluring, exciting, even provocative. Still, it was a huge feat ahead of Calipjo and his team, especially considering Councilman Mel Rapozo’s reminder that the center wouldn’t happen overnight; a clause in the lease gave them 10 years to complete the building.
In 2011, Calipjo had left his position as president of Kaua‘i Filipino Chamber of Commerce to step in as president of KPCC, which has 10 board members and four officers, all on a volunteer basis. Their goal was to have the first of two buildings finished in 2020, two years ahead of the deadline in the county lease. But guess what? It will likely be finished next year, five years earlier than the county’s deadline of 2022 and two years earlier than KPCC’s own deadline.
Considering that over the years, I witnessed several private development projects stall and go back to the Kaua‘i Planning Commission for permit extensions, this is an amazing feat. It is even more remarkable when you find out the project will be done entirely with donations and grants; no borrowed money.
The KPCC’s vision, “A Place for All,” is a model of cultural, ethnic and social diversity. Despite highlighting the Filipino culture, it is being billed as an all-inclusive center welcoming the entire island. Regardless of cultural or ethnic background; it will be available for use to anyone on Kaua‘i.
Hats off to Calipjo and everyone else involved in this remarkable project.