LIHU‘E — The solution for complicated puzzles may be right in front of people, but they are so focused on finding the answer that they look at it but can’t see it — even when a 16,500 square-foot solution stared at them for nearly two years.
And that’s what happened to George Costa, the director of the county Office of Economic Development. On Wednesday, he unveiled to the Kaua‘i County Council his grand plans for the site of the former Big Save Market in Lihu‘e, which has been empty since June 2011, and is owned by the county for more than 20 years.
For quite sometime, Costa had been looking for a place with a commercial kitchen to provide a growing number of local farmers the ability to turn their produce into value-added products. There are many commercial kitchens on Kaua‘i, but the problem was finding one willing to rent out space to third parties, he said.
Costa was also looking for a meat-processing facility. The initial plans were for a slaughterhouse, but there are already two established local facilities, and the county didn’t want to displaced them, he said. However, there is still a need for the thriving local ranchers to process the meat from their cattle and other animals.
Retail space for Kaua‘i Grown and Kaua‘i Made products was another piece of the puzzle.
He said one day he was discussing these plans with Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., when Carvalho told him, “What about Big Save?”
All of a sudden, everything fell into place, Costa said.
“That was December, and so really we’re three months into this,” he said.
Costa’s vision for Big Save includes retail space, a commercial kitchen and a meat processing facility. His team developed a plan that would use up to 9,000 square feet of the 16,500 square-foot site of the former Big Save.
He said if 100 percent of the calf crop stayed on Kaua‘i, it would provide only 26 percent of local demand for beef. The meat-processing plant would not slaughter animals, rather, it would received quartered carcasses for further processing.
Having a central commercial kitchen provides opportunities for businesses, and is important to the success of the food-hub concept, said Costa, adding the meat processing facility will likely require its own facility, due to United States Department of Agriculture regulations.
The administration has plans to use the site to house some county agencies, but there is also an opportunity to add a second floor to the building, he said.
For now, the multi-use concept is in its “infancy stages,” Costa said. But he was excited at the idea of having a grocery store reborn at the former Big Save site, making Lihu‘e a more walkable community.
“There are opportunities out there, and we’re hoping we can facilitate those opportunities,” he said.
The project already has the support of at least one community member.
“We desperately need to eat,” said Alice Parker, who lives at a senior citizen housing in Lihu‘e. “Some of my neighbors are buying their food supplies at 7-Eleven … they depended on Big Save.”
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.