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  From The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 20, 2003

Coco Palms in new hands soon
By Anthony Sommer

Developer Richard Weiser is expected to buy the resort

The Coco Palms swimming pool sits in disrepair.

Photo by DENNIS ODA, Honolulu Star Bulletin
. . . . .

LIHUE - South Carolina developer and part-time Princeville resident Richard Weiser is expected to announce soon that he is buying the historic Coco Palms resort and plans to restore it to as close to its former appearance as possible.

Located just north of the Wailua River mouth on Kauai's east shore, the Coco Palms featured Polynesian-style architecture and was considered one of Hawaii's most beautiful and fashionable resorts during its heyday in the 1950s and '60s.

The 396-room hotel has been closed since Sept. 11, 1992, when Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai. The hotel was full that day, and guests were evacuated to an emergency shelter at Kapaa High School.

The Coco Palms is best remembered as the location for much of the 1961 Elvis Presley movie "Blue Hawaii." A lengthy and elaborate wedding scene on a boat was filmed on the hotel's artificial lagoons. Presley returned to Coco Palms for his real honeymoon, as well.

Elvis fans still regularly use the hotel ground for their weddings. The cottage used as a set in the film is a scheduled stop on daily tours of movie locations on the island.

Weiser has not announced any details of his plan, but state Sen. Gary Hooser (D-Kauai and Niihau) said Weiser's goal is to re-create the original as closely as possible.

There will be 175 hotel suites and 201 timeshare units in a planned restoration of the Coco Palms Hotel on Kauai.

Hooser, who lives near the boarded-up resort, said it was a popular spot with Kauai residents as well as tourists. The bar was a popular local gathering place on Saturday nights.

"I can remember many wonderful Sunday brunches beside the lagoons years ago," Hooser said.

Weiser spends three months of every year in Princeville, and he and his family are scheduled to arrive on Christmas Day. He is expected to call a news conference shortly after his arrival to announce his plans. Wailua Associates of California is listed as the current owner.

Sources confirmed the property is in escrow, with Coco Palms LLC, which is headed by Weiser, as the buyer. The deal is contingent on the resolution of numerous obstacles to developing the property, according to sources.

The State Highway Division is planning to build a permanent Kapaa Bypass to replace the temporary bypass. No definite route has been chosen, but it is expected to affect the Coco Palms property to some extent. Road construction probably is 20 to 30 years away.

Weiser is expected to seek a firm decision on the route before the sale closes. The property, which fronts Kuhio Highway, also might be affected by state plans to widen that roadway.

The portion of the highway fronting the hotel is a major choke point for southbound traffic, with cars often backed up for miles. Hooser has been working with state highway officials to facilitate the project.

He said one possible solution is to leave Kuhio Highway as it is but build a much larger Kapaa Bypass that goes inland well above the flood zone. He said Kauai is long overdue for a tsunami, and the Coco Palms property is in a vulnerable low-lying area.

"I think last month's very rare, strong east swell may have been a wake-up call for the highway engineers," Hooser said.

He noted Kuhio Highway was closed by high water in only one spot: in front of the Coco Palms. Weiser also is likely to work closely with the native Hawaiian community. The nearby Wailua River area is considered sacred, and many heiau are along the river.

Knowledgeable sources estimated the project will cost $100 million.

Weiser has been involved in several projects in Hawaii. The most frustrating for him was the attempt to develop a combined shopping center and light industrial park on Kuhio Highway outside Kilauea town.

He obtained all the needed permits but could not convince any grocery store chain to lease space. A supermarket was considered the keystone of the project, which collapsed for the lack of it.

The last attempt to buy and rebuild the Coco Palms was announced in 1999 by Honolulu developer James Reed. That project fell through for lack of financing, and the sale fell out of escrow.

Meanwhile, plans have been announced to rebuild the only other Iniki-damaged hotel that has not been restored.

CTF Hotels and Resorts said it plans to begin work next month on rebuilding the small Poipu Beach Hotel, which, like Coco Palms, has been closed for the past 11 years.

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