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  From The Honolulu Advertiser, February 5, 2003

Park suggested for Coco Palms

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

WAILUA, Kaua'i - The venerable Coco Palms hotel property, which has been closed for a decade, would become a state historical park under legislation proposed by Sen. Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau).

The resort was the prototype for tropical resorts throughout the Pacific, with its clamshell-shaped sinks, Polynesian art and decor, thatched roofs and quiet lagoons. It was the site of the Elvis Presley's wedding in the film "Blue Hawaii."

The Coco Palms was closed after sustaining damage from 1992's Hurricane Iniki.

Reopening was delayed initially because of differences between owner Park Lane Hotels and its insurer over hurricane damage claims.

Later, developer James R. Reed received county approvals to restore it into a time-share operation, but he dropped his bid to buy the land when investors pulled out after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Hooser expressed frustration that the Coco Palms, which was the island's oldest operating hotel when it closed, has remained shuttered for so long.

"The property is a continuous visual reminder of Iniki and its negative economic effects," Hooser said. "This location would be ideal for a cultural and educational resource park. I believe we can once again make this place a strong symbol for Kaua'i's people."

The property's coconut grove stands over lagoons that once belonged to the island's royal rulers. The sandy soil has accommodated numerous ancient burials.

Park Lane Hotels could not be reached for comment on the Hooser bill.

Developer Reed said it is challenging to come up with a development scheme that makes financial sense, partly because a busy highway runs between the hotel property and the ocean.

But Reed also said the idea of a cultural and historical park there seems appropriate.

"You stand in those coconut groves, and it's just enchanting," he said.

Hooser also has proposed a separate measure, SB1560, aimed at the Coco Palms and other properties left abandoned for extended periods after a natural disaster.

It would allow the counties to penalize property owners with fines of up to $200 a day, and would permit the counties to condemn such properties.

A hearing on Hooser's bill asking the state to buy the Coco Palms, SB1561, is scheduled for a public hearing at 9 a.m. tomorrow before the Senate's Water, Land and Agriculture Committee in Room 229 at the State Capitol.

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

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