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  From The Garden Island, February 09, 2003

February 09, 2003

Hooser tells council that Coco Palms bill is on hold

By LESTER CHANG - TGI Staff Writer

Senator's move draws out developer's announcement

A Senate bill proposing to turn the former Coco Palms Hotel in Wailua into a cultural park has been put on hold because the property may be developed, state Sen. Gary Hooser told a Kaua'i County Council committee Thursday.

The one-time flagship of Kaua'i hotels in the 1950s and 1960s has sat idle for 11 years since it was ravaged by Hurricane 'Iniki in 1992.

During a meeting of the council's finance/intergovernmental relations committee at the historic County Building, Hooser D-7th (Kaua'i-Ni'ihau) said Park Lane Hotels/Wailua Associates is on the verge of forming a deal for a joint venture partnership.

That could mean the owners could be negotiating with an entity to develop the property or it could mean they are looking to sell it, Hooser said.

Hooser said the owners were concerned the bill could jeopardize their plans for the property.

Hooser said a company executive told him that the hotel owners were "moving forward" with a project and that they would be "sensitive to community concerns" in any development of the property by private interests.

If such plans move forward, the idea of transforming the property into a park for the public's benefit is not likely to happen, Hooser said.

Hooser said the idle state of the hotel and the lack of repairs is a "a continuous, visual reminder of 'Iniki, and its negative economic effects."

Concerned the storm-damaged buildings have not been repaired or renovated, Hooser co-introduced a bill to turn the historic hotel property into a state cultural and educational resource park.

Senate Bill 1561 would require the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to initiate eminent domain to acquire the hotel so the property can be used in that manner, Hooser said.

Hooser said Lynn McCrory, the Kaua'i member of the state Land Board, Don Cataluna, a Kaua'i representative with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and others have submitted testimony supporting the bill.

Testimony was to have been given during a meeting at the State Capital in Honolulu on Feb. 6.

A related bill, Senate Bill 1560, also co-introduced by Hooser, authorizes counties to condemn and demolish abandoned facilities that have been damaged due to a natural disaster.

The bill would apply to damaged commercial properties that have more than 5,000 square feet under roof and have been neglected, Hooser said.

The bill, if approved, would grant counties the right to enact a $200 per day penalty.

Within the last year, the owners of the old Coco Palms hotel had a perimeter fence installed around the property to protect it from vandalism.

The property is located next to a expansive coconut grove owned by the state and near ancient heiau sites.

In the 1840s, a portion of the property near Kuamo'o Road was home to Debora Kapule, the last queen of Kaua'i.

The hotel was opened in the mid-1950s by Lyle Guslander and the marketing and design skills of his wife Grace Guslander made the coconut-tree lined resort one of the most popular in Hawai'i, and one known for repeat stays by visitors.

Although the grounds are fenced off, a wedding chapel built for the Rita Hayworth movie "Miss Sadie Thompson" in 1953 and the resort's signature lagoons are used as the backdrop for weddings staged by long-time Kaua'i singer and guitarist Larry Rivera and his family.

The lagoons was the site for Elvis Presley's floating wedding scene in the 1961 film "Blue Hawaii."

All original material © 2003 Cisan Online Ventures/Cisan.Com