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Another Win

Former NBA coach Don Nelson builds beachfront wedding and event center in Kihei.

January 17, 2013
Susan Halas - Senior Contributing Writer ( , The Maui Weekly

During his heyday in professional basketball, Don Nelson was known as "the 'winningest' coach in the NBA." Now it looks like the Pa'ia resident and semi-retired businessman has come up with another victory with his newest venture--a large beachfront special events and destination wedding center now under construction at the north end of Kihei.

The owner emphasized that all activities at the new venture, Sugar Beach Events, will take place on-site and not on the beach.

Nelson, who formerly ran a similar business from an oceanfront property in Ma'alaea, exited that location when he ran into permit difficulties with Maui County. Not a man to be easily discouraged, he moved to Kihei, where he owns two oceanfront parcels of land--one zoned commercial and the other residential. The total area for the pair of lots is just shy of two acres.

Article Photos

Two lots owned by Don Nelson The green lot, formerly zoned commercial, was once the home of Margarita’s Mexican restaurant and other businesses. Those structures were demolished and the land rezoned to residential use. It is now being used to grow grass for landscaping.

The yellow lot is the commercial property where the 4,000-square-foot Sugar Beach Events center is being constructed.

The red line from highway to ocean along the residential property boundary designates the beach access route. The red line along the highway shows approximate sidewalk route from the beach access path to the new parking lot.

Nelson paid over $5 million for the two properties and then came up with another $2.5 million for construction of the building on the commercial side. He estimated that planning took a total of four years.

The new structure now being erected is a modern interpretation of a traditional Hawaiian hale. It was designed by architect George A. Rixey of Artel Inc. Viking Construction of Kihei is the builder.

The building will have approximately 4,000 square feet under-roof, including a commercial kitchen, bridal dressing room, a 60-by-60-foot great room and substantial storage area. The event center is situated on a 39,137-square-foot lot, which was formerly used for a commercial fishing operation.

Nelson's residential lot next door has an additional 46,859 square feet; it remains vacant and is being used to grow grass for landscaping purposes. He contemplates eventually putting residential structures on that property, but at the moment, has no firm plans for future use.

This parcel was formerly a commercial complex that contained Margarita's Mexican restaurant. The eatery and other commercial buildings on the site were demolished some years ago and the land was rezoned to residential use. The beach access path runs along the boundary of this lot. (See diagram on front page.)

Nelson projects that the opening date for Sugar Beach Events will be "sometime in July." The new facility will eventually operate seven days a week. Events are anticipated to range in size from small, intimate celebrations to as many as 300 guests.

There is parking for 46 vehicles on-site. For larger functions, private shuttles will be used, he said.

While Nelson owns the land and building, his daughter, Lee McBride, will be the lessee and owner/operator of the business. McBride, a well-known chef here, is currently the owner of Aloha Events, a five-year-old catering firm.

She said Sugar Beach Events will use Aloha Events for its catering and anticipates new company will "work in tandem" with the existing company. The focus will be on destination weddings, corporate events, fundraisers and similar upscale functions.

While no details on offerings or prices are yet available, both McBride and Nelson said costs are expected to be "competitive" with other existing private facilities. Event inquiries are being accepted at

McBride projects an eventual total staff of 30 to 40 employees--some already employed on the Aloha Events side and the rest on the operations side of the new business. Applications for employment, said McBride, are premature, and hiring to round out the roster is expected to begin in June.

The Nelson lots are flanked on both sides by condominium properties. Though at an earlier time, neighbors raised a variety of issues related to a large-scale commercial entertainment venue, the venture obtained its building permit in 2011 after agreeing to 22 different conditions. These included numerous modifications to the initial plans.

Nelson and McBride said that the plans for the structure had been "flipped" so that the kitchen and rubbish areas are now located on the side of the building next to Nelson's residential lot and not adjacent to the neighboring condo.

A curfew has been agreed upon. Operations will begin shutting down at 9:30 p.m. and will end promptly at 10 p.m. Likewise, there will be no early morning trash pick up.

Both Nelson and McBride stressed that no private use or encroachment will be made on the beach and all commercial activities will take place on property.

"They did a good job of working with the neighbors and reaching a compromise," said Andrew Beerer, who lives nearby and has been active in South Maui affairs.

Both Nelson and McBride emphasized that they intend to remain sensitive to community concerns.

"We expect to be here a long time and we want to be good neighbors," McBride said. "I'm really looking forward to opening--this has been in the works a long time."



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