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Coco Palms has left the building
by Lester Chang - THE GARDEN ISLAND

Posted: Thursday, Sep 13, 2007 - 09:41:58 pm HST

The drive by Coco Palms Ventures to restore the historic Coco Palms Resort in Wailua - the flagship hotel in Hawaiei in the 1950s and 1960s - has ended.

The developer recently decided to sell the resort partly because the county Planning Commission rejected a plan for a full-scale fitness spa - a key project aimed at attracting affluent buyers, according to Donna Apisa, the listing agent for the sale of 200 condominiums at the project.

Although the developer had argued the county had previously approved the spa at the site of old tennis courts at the northern end of the project in 1985 and 2000, the current planning commissions sided with critics who said the project should not be placed in an open district.

gThe current owner isnft going to develop the land and will auction it off (later this year) to another developer,h Apisa said yesterday.

The hotel has been closed since suffering severe damage by Hurricane eIniki in 1992.

The effort to build a new resort reminiscent of the Polynesian style of the old one came with much fanfare in March 2006.

During a meeting at Mayor Bryan Baptistefs office at the Lihuee Civic Center in March 2006, Richard Weiser, a part-time resident of Princeville and one of the key principals for Coco Palms Ventures, and other representatives for the resort, announced the completed sale of the resort from Wailua Associates, a San Francisco interest, in January of that year.

Coco Palms had acquired a 16.4-acre parcel, although the sale amount was not disclosed. The sale also included the transfer of 17 acres of state leasehold lands.

With the sale completed and with county Planning Commission permits approved in January 2005, Weiser said the developer was ready to move full steam ahead.

Plans called for the start of the first phase of the work ? demolition of at least 90 percent of the buildings ? last summer and for the resort to open in summer 2008.

Plans called for the building of a $220 million resort that was to include 48 bungalows, 200 condominiums, restaurants and some form of a spa to be built among clusters of buildings.

Weiser, Phillip Ross nor Walter Petrie, partners in the proposed reconstruction project, were available for comment yesterday.

Had they followed through on their plans, the resort would have been the last of the islandfs hurricane-damaged hotels to be repaired.

In recent years, Coco Palms Ventures reached certain milestones in preparation for the reconstruction of the entire resort.

Those milestones included securing permission from the state Department of Transportation to build a pedestrian pathway over Kuhio Highway between the resort and Wailua Bay. The project was intended to ensure safe passage of pedestrians between the bay and the resort.

The developer also would have allowed users of the countyfs pedestrian and pathway project in Wailua to use the bridge.

The developer had also agreed to pay for the widening of the highway in front of the resort to help ease traffic congestion between the southern entry of the temporary Kapaea Bypass Road and the Wailua River.

The entire resort project had provoked criticism from some Hawaiians who felt its development would prevent them from accessing ancestral lands.

But Weiser had met with powerful Hawaiian groups, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and pledged to protect historical sites.

And saying he voiced strong community sentiment, Sen. Gary Hooser, District 7-Kauaei, Nieihau, suggested in 2003 to turn the resort into a state park. That idea, however, never gained strength.

The hotel was the home of Queen Deborah Kapule, Kauaeifs last reigning queen.

The hotel also was the site of the famous wedding scene in Elvis Presleyfs 1961 film, gBlue Hawaiei,h which helped the state, just two years after statehood, become a world-renowned visitor destination.

Longtime Kauaei entertainer Larry Rivera, who has been associated with the Coco Palms for 50 years, and his family stage gBlue Hawaiei weddingsh at the resort.

The hotel reached a high level of grandeur under the ownership of Grace and Lyle Guslander, two well-known Hawaiei hoteliers in the 1950s and 1960s.

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