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  From Pacific Business News, Monday, Mar. 27, 2000:

Coco Palms takes a step toward rebuilding
By Andrew Beach
PBN Staff Reporter

California developer Lincoln Consulting Group is another step closer to its goal of rebuilding Kauai's Coco Palms Resort as a combined time-share/hotel development, after gaining county Planning Commission permit approvals.

Lincoln's director, Jim Reed, says the company intends to move forward with the plans, which will see most of the old resort's buildings demolished, but will leave the coconut palm grove and other historic and culturally important sites.

"I believe we have already factored in the sensitivity and timing issues, which we face in properly addressing community concerns regarding the cultural and historical aspects of the redevelopment," Reed says.

The resort, about five miles north of Lihue, has been closed to overnight guests since Hurricane Iniki struck on Sept. 11, 1992.

The commission approved the permits with several conditions concerning the preservation of the trees, resolving issues with the state Department of Transportation over the alignment of the highway in front of the hotel and addressing Hawaiian burial and historic areas on the site.

Commission member Gary Baldwin says that to obtain the actual construction permits, Lincoln will have to demonstrate it is meeting the conditions.

"That will probably take some time," Baldwin says.

Reed says the existing facilities are in "severe disrepair and will be predominantly removed in the new development."

However, he says the development will seek to "maintain and enhance the images, feelings and aura that made Coco Palms Resort the most recognized and famous of all the Hawaiian hotel properties in its heyday."

As it now stands, the development would build 232 two-bedroom time-share units, and 10 single-story cottages, which would be used as 20 one-bedroom or 10 two-bedroom hotel suites.

An "ancient-style Hawaiian canoe lodge" will be the guest registration and greeting area, approached by guests arriving through the Coconut Grove.

The property will also have a spa and recreation facility and a restaurant/grill with liquor license. In addition, Lincoln plans to reopen the beachfront Seashell Restaurant and construct either a pedestrian bridge or a tunnel to provide beach access across Kuhio Highway.

Reed says Lincoln will also restore the historic wedding chapel and refurbish the original "King's Cottage" and place it within the coconut tree grove. The resort will contain a museum exhibiting historical information and artifacts of the area.

Local Hawaiian cultural groups would have rent-free access to the coconut grove, says Reed.

Former state Sen. Billy Fernandes spoke in favor of the proposal at the Planning Commission meeting, and he says redevelopment of the site is long overdue.

"The residents are in support of the proposal, so long as it keeps the concept of the Coco Palms," Fernandes says.

In particular, he says, the redevelopment must keep the coconut palms: "It's got to work within the trees.

"I wouldn't stick my neck out and support this" if the development did not seem a good one," he says.

The 2,000-tree coconut grove was originally planted in 1896. Former owner Grace Guslander established a pattern of planting replacement trees, often by celebrity guests, and there are plaques throughout the grove marking trees planted by people such as Duke Kahanamoku and Bing Crosby.

Reed says the project will have a major positive impact on Kauai.

"The majority of the people I have spoken with, cutting across all lines of the Kauai community, are, in fact, very supportive of our plans and wish us well in proceeding," Reed says.

He says he does not believe the conditions will delay the start date for the development.

"We have always stated our intention to be respectful of preserving historical [and] cultural aspects of the property, including proper treatment of burials that we will surely come across in the reconstruction, as well as other significant artifacts and matters of cultural importance."

Reach Andrew Beach by e-mail or by phone at 955-8042.

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