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  From The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 24, 2004

Developer seeks to restore Coco Palms
By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE - Developer Richard Weiser has announced he has reached a purchase agreement with the owners of the historic Coco Palms Resort in Wailua and is going ahead with plans to seek Kauai County permits to rebuild the hotel.

Weiser said he has signed a contract with Wailua Associates LLC, a California holding company that is listed as the owner of the property.

Weiser did not disclose the purchase amount. Insiders have estimated he will spend about $100 million to purchase and restore the resort, which has been closed since Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Weiser said the contract has several clauses that would void the sale if certain conditions are not met, including obtaining government permits. The first permit he is seeking is a county special management area permit, required for any development in a coastal area.

"Assuming we receive the SMA permit, I'm looking at closing the sale in late 2004," he said. "We should be under construction in 2005."

Weiser said he will make public his plans for the resort when issues involving traffic are resolved.

The Coco Palms property has been eyed by the state Department of Transportation for a portion of a permanent Kapaa bypass. But state officials have refused to nail down a specific route or plan, and construction is decades away.

Prospective buyers of the property have backed away for fear the state would build a road through the property after they put up a new hotel.

Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste has gone on record saying he advocates a Kapaa bypass much further inland than the current temporary bypass. He said he wants a route that would ensure the north and south shores are not cut off in the event of a tsunami.

The bypass, in Baptiste's concept, would become the primary highway, while the current Kuhio Highway fronting the Coco Palms would become a secondary road.

If the state buys Baptiste's reasoning, that might take the Coco Palms out of the route of a bypass entirely.

"I'd say we are about 80 percent there on that issue," Weiser said.

The 396-room resort, with its distinctive Polynesian architecture, was among Hawaii's most elegant hotels in the 1950s and 1960s. Many traditions later emulated by other hotels -- such as the nightly torch-lighting ceremony -- began at the Coco Palms.

The resort also was a popular night spot for Kauai residents.

Weiser has vowed to make the new Coco Palms as close to an exact replica of the original as possible.

The hotel was full on Sept. 11, 1992, when Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai. Guests were taken to Kapaa High School for shelter. The hotel was locked and never reopened.

Coco Palms in its heyday lives on in the 1961 Elvis Presley movie "Blue Hawaii." Much of the film was shot at the resort, including a lengthy and lavish wedding sequence aboard a boat in the hotel's famous lagoons.

Weiser, who for years has lived nine months of each year in South Carolina and three months in Princeville, said he plans to spend almost all of his time on Kauai for the foreseeable future.

All original material © 2004 Cisan Online Ventures/Cisan.Com