Retail Outlet Boom Under Wy Near Maui Airport

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Reed Travel Features

KAHULUI -- Most of Maui's

2 million-plus annual visitors fly into Kahului Airport, at the east end of a seven-mile urban and commercial strip.

Those who have not driven out of the airport in a few years are in for a surprise: A construction boom is under way, most notably in shopping facilities.

At the west end, Wailuku, the historical county town and older commercial center, has been getting a face-lift over the last decade under a Main Street program.

Expanded shopping gives visitors more reason to stop before driving on to the south and west Maui resorts.

Since half of the visitors stay in resort condominiums and 96% rent a car, this could be the place to stock up.

Outside the airport, at Dairy Road and Hana Highway, the 20-acre Maui Marketplace is under construction.

Such big retailers as Eagle Hardware, the Sports Authority and Borders Books will move in from mid-February through mid-April.

PriceCostco and Kmart opened outside the airport three years ago.

Two years ago, nearby Kaahumanu Center expanded with a $60 million second level. Almost doubling in size, to 572,000 square feet, the shopping facility now has more than 100 stores and restaurants, including a six-screen movie theater and a 500-seat food court.

Many outlets aim primarily at tourists.

A year ago, Japan Travel Bureau, one of Japan's largest wholesalers, opened a visitor-briefing facility at Kaahumanu Center, the first such facility on a neighbor island.

Japanese arriving on morning interisland flights shop at the center before going to hotels in the afternoon.

Wailuku-Kahului is on the north coast of a central plain that connects its two mountain masses -- the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala Crater.

Visitors must return to the area to start touring some of Maui's top scenic sightseeing routes:

* Isolated Hana, 52 miles east of the airport, along the famous winding, narrow highway with its rugged rain forest scenery.

* Haleakala National Park, more than 10,000 feet above sea level, 37 miles from the airport.

* Iao Valley State Park, with its Iao Needle rising 1,200 feet from the valley floor at the beginning of the West Maui Mountains, a few miles west of Wailuku.

Despite its pivotal position, the urban area takes a backseat, as visitors usually are on the way to somewhere else.

Few Iao Needle visitors stop to explore old Wailuku; clients staying in west Maui have the historical sites of the old whaling capital of Lahaina at their doorstep.

They must pass Wailuku's most notable historical attraction, the Bailey House, a missionary museum dating to 1833, on the edge of town.

Around the corner, on South High Street, are many of the town's older buildings, including Queen Kaahumanu Church, built in 1876.

The Wailuku Main Street Association, at 68 Market St., has a free 40-page walking-tour booklet available.

The booklet, called Rediscover Wailuku Town, identifies 23 historical sites.

Copies are available at the office or by calling the association at (808) 244-3888.

The Wailuku Main Street Association spearheaded the revitalization of Wailuku over the last decade. The group regards the Iao Valley Theater, which it saved from the wrecking ball 10 years ago, as its signature project.

Last March, Wailuku's old movie house, built in 1927, reopened after Maui County spent $2.6 million on its restoration. It now is used by community theater groups.

Overlooking Kahului Bay is the Maui Arts and Cultural Center.

The $30 million facility, opened in May 1994, features a 1,200-seat theater for shows and concerts, a 4,100-square-foot art gallery, a community hall and an outdoor amphitheater with a capacity for 4,000 people.

For further information, including the latest schedule of events, call the center at (808) 242-2787.

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