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  From The Honolulu Advertiser, February 8, 2003

Coco Palms owner in talks with buyer

By Jan TenBruggencate

Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

WAILUA, Kaua'i A proposal to convert the old Coco Palms Hotel property into a state cultural park has been shifted to the back burner because landowner Park Lane Hotels said it is negotiating with a buyer.

The classic hotel, associated with Polynesian themes and Elvis Presley's "Blue Hawaii," has been closed for 10 years because of damage from 1992's Hurricane 'Iniki.

State Sen. Gary Hooser D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau) expressed frustration that the storm-damaged buildings have never been repaired or removed, and he proposed the state condemn the property. He also suggested the counties be given the power to assess penalties against owners who fail to repair storm-damaged properties.

Hooser said his bill is now unlikely to move forward, since representatives of Park Lane Hotels told Senate committees they are in active negotiation, suggesting the property could be developed by private industry.

Paul Alston, Park Lane's Honolulu attorney, noted the company was negotiating with a buyer for several years, but the deal fell through after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We are now in discussions with yet another prospective buyer. Hopefully we can do a deal, and if we can't, the owner is certainly exploring other options," Alston said.

Alston said, however, that the $5 million price tag suggested in the Hooser bill is not enough for the property.

"The price that was mentioned was far below anything that has ever been mentioned for the property," Alston said.

Park Lane subsidiary Wailua Associates owns only part of the resort property. Wailua Associates controls nearly 13 acres under the hotel buildings, along with nearly 19 acres mauka of a historic coconut grove after which the resort gets its name. The mauka property includes an old tennis complex, pasture and wetlands that are not part of the hotel.

The state owns the 15-acre coconut grove, along with a parking lot on the corner of Kuhio Highway and Kuamo'o Road.

Alston said one problem with the redevelopment of the property has been new government regulations that require buildings be raised several feet because of flood concerns, and different proposals for a new highway that could run through the mauka portion of the resort.

Hooser said his office has received enthusiastic support for the idea of a state purchase, along with proposals that include canoe club facilities, a children's museum, historic preservation display areas and other uses.

"There's been 11 years of opportunity to do something positive with this property. People are tired of it. The park idea has gotten an enormous amount of positive public response," he said.

He said he plans to form a committee of people who expressed interest in the park concept and who stand ready if the sale and development of the property does not proceed.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.

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