“(T)he citizens of Maui in particular, and of the Territory or Hawaiʻi in general, as well as many strangers who, in the past, have visited Maui, up to the present time have been required to submit to the most unsatisfactory, antiquated, and often dangerous methods of landing”.
“After years of patient and persistent effort on the part of the citizens of this Island there has been constructed and brought to completion at Māla , one of the most modern and up to date wharves”. (Maui Chamber Resolution 1922)
Māla Pier, dedicated in 1922, planned to eliminate the inconvenience of light freighters to load/unload steamers anchored in Lāhainā Roadstead.
The Maui Chamber of Commerce went on record as strongly opposed to the use at Māla Wharf of small boats from and to the steamers Mauna Kea and Kilauea.
Nearby was the Baldwin Packers pineapple cannery, it was hoped that this new pier would facilitate transporting the pineapple.
Likewise, sugar from the upslope Pioneer Mill was expected to be run out the wharf to be loaded directly onto large ocean voyaging cargo vessels.
Building the massive wharf in those days was no minor undertaking and the army corps of engineers developed the design and erected the wharf.
It was noted at the time that Hawaiians familiar with the local tides, coastline and ocean activity recommended against its construction in that location.
The ill-fated structure was built anyway and on the very first attempt to pull a cargo ship alongside the wharf for loading the vessel crashed into Māla Wharf causing serious damage to the structure.
It was soon discovered that the ocean currents at Māla Wharf were too treacherous for the ships to navigate safely.
Strong currents and heavy surf damaged many others when they tried to tie-up there. (Reportedly, only a handful of steamers ever landed there successfully.)
Produce had to be taken by barge to awaiting ships. By 1932, the roads had been improved enough to transport the fruit by truck to Kahului Harbor.
The State closed the wharf in the 1950s. Several subsequent plans have been discussed to the pier and adjoining lands.
In 1971, proposals by the Xanadu Corp to construct a restaurant, museum, shops, offices, park, parking lot and small marina at the site were announced. (Lahaina Sun)
Initial plans called for a 193-space parking lot situated at the Kaʻānapali side of the foot of the pier. A park was planned between the parking lot and the shoreline which would block the parking area from sight while on the pier. (Lahaina Sun)
Four buildings, housing 18 shops and 10 offices would be staggered on alternate sides of the pier. Park and fishing areas would be located between the buildings. Some of the shops would be cantilevered over the water. (Lahaina Sun)
The bulk of the four buildings would be one story, with two sections of each building rising another story. Near the end of the pier, a bait and tackle shop is planned. Plans also call for construction of a one-story Hawaiiana Museum. (Lahaina Sun)
At the pier’s end would be a two-story restaurant which could seat 200. Behind the restaurant would be an art gallery. Plans also include a 40-ship marina. The marina would be situated close to shore and would require dredging operations. (Lahaina Sun)
In 2012, principals of Harbor Quest LLC discussed plans for another boat harbor at Māla.
Their testimony before the council described the details: “A channel approximately 650 feet long and 125 (feet) in width would be constructed through what is now Māla Wharf access road. The channel would transect Front Street, opening into a harbor basin with a surface area approximately three times the size of Lahaina Small Board Harbor.” (Lahaina News)
The vision is for a mixed-use, inland harbor village situated on 24-plus acres of land on the south side of Kahoma Stream between the ocean and Honoapiilani Highway. (Lahaina News)
The proposed plans for the private venture are still on the drawing board but include 143 fifty-foot slips, three anchor restaurants, 160 retail establishments, 16 residential condominiums, haul-out facility and a four-story parking garage. (Lahaina News)
Nearby, Kahoma Village, an affordable workforce housing project was recently constructed. However, the Hawaii State Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower court invalidating a permit for Kahoma Village.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals that the Maui Planning Commission should have allowed a group of neighboring residents to intervene on Kahoma Village, a 203-unit, $60 million fast-track affordable housing project that was approved in 2014.