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  From Associated Press, August 7, 2005

Coco Palms plans move forward
The resort devastated by Hurricane Iniki is famous as the setting for a 1961 Elvis film

The 396-room Coco Palms resort, which has been closed since Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and is shown here in disrepair in 2003, is scheduled to reopen in mid-2008, with construction expected to start next year.
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LIHUE - Plans for a famed Kauai resort that has been shuttered since Hurricane Iniki are moving forward, with construction expected to start next year, according to the principal sales broker for the project.

The plans call for the Coco Palms to reopen in mid-2008 with 200 condominium units and 104 hotel rooms, said Donna Apisa, president and principal broker of Oceanfront Realty International.

The 396-room resort -- made famous as the backdrop for the 1961 Elvis Presley movie "Blue Hawaii" -- sits on 45 acres along and around the Wailua River that was once a gathering place for ancient Hawaiians.

It was the ancestral home of Kauai's royalty in the 13th century and was also the home of Kauai's last reigning queen, Queen Deborah Kapule, a wife of King Kaumualii, in the mid-1800s.

The Coco Palms, which opened in 1953, was developed as the image of what visitors then thought a Polynesian resort should look like. It was renowned for its 2,000-tree coconut grove, lagoons and evening torch lighting ceremonies.

The redevelopment of the resort will involve tearing down most of the buildings, except for the lobby building, because there was too much damage from the Sept. 11, 1992, hurricane and the 13 years of vacancy, Apisa said.

"We want to keep the flavor of Coco Palms, but it will be a new rebuild," she said. "We'll try to salvage as much as we can and recreate the feel of Coco Palms."

The $200 million Coco Palms project is a joint venture between developers Richard Weiser and Walt Petrie.

Sales and marketing of the condominium portion of the resort won't begin until the project has all its approvals from the state Real Estate Commission, Apisa said. The Kauai Planning Commission approved permits for the restoration in January.

The developer is currently talking to boutique hotel operators about running the hotel portion, Apisa said.

"We want someone who will be sensitive to the historical and cultural aspects of Coco Palms," she said. "It's got so much history and culture there that we want to do it right."

The project includes three restaurants, including the beachfront Sea Shell restaurant, across Kuhio Highway from the main property, which has also been closed since Hurricane Iniki. The renovated resort will also have conference space, a spa, a general store, a shop and a beauty salon.

The developer also wants to dedicate a museum as a tribute to the late Grace Guslander, the resort's general manager during its heyday.

Many of the artifacts from that time are being held by the Kauai Historical Society. Elvis Presley's bungalow, fondly known as Cottage 56, will also be restored and used as a memorial to the late star.

Although the resort has been closed for nearly 13 years, weddings are still being held at the Coco Palms property.

Coco Palms is one of the last hotels devastated by Hurricane Iniki to reopen. Last year, developer CTF Hawaii Hotel Partners won permits to rebuild the Poipu Beach Hotel on Kauai's south shore.

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