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Coco Palms being considered for park site
By Nathan Eagle - The Garden Island
Saturday, Jan 26, 2008

State Sen. Gary Hooser this week proposed a plan to convert an Eastside eye sore into a public park.

The Kauaei Democrat introduced a bill in the Senate requesting an appropriation of $10 million in matching funds to buy Coco Palms Resort ? still shuttered after Hurricane eIniki ravaged the island in 1992.

The legislation calls for the acquisition of the resort and its conversion into a public historical park and cultural education center to preserve and benefit native Hawaiian culture.

gItfs a very long shot,h Hooser said Friday. gBut I think we should try. Therefs a fair number of people in the community talking about the concept.h

Kapaea resident Marcia Kay Sacco, who runs www.kauai-wedding.com, said the park would be ga wonderful asset to our community and visitors alike.h

gPersonally, out of respect for the kanaka maoli and their ancestors, Coco Palms should be preserved as a cultural public park and educational center,h she said.

It would be unlikely for the state to be willing to pay the whole price and manage such a facility, Hooser said, which is why Senate Bill 3221 asks for matching funds.

gIfm hoping wefll find a partner ? maybe two or three,h the senator said. gThis would put the property to use the way it deserves to be.h

The bill instructs the state Land and Natural Resources Department to enter into negotiations with parties who might match funds with the state and contribute developmental and operational expertise, a news release says. Organizations such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, Kamehameha Schools, Kauaei County and other federal officials and agencies will be approached.

gTherefs still a long way to go to make it a reality,h Hooser said.

A state-leased coconut grove comprising half of the 35 acres where the resort sits in Wailua could be part of the park, he said.

gWe are in a declining real estate market,h Hooser said. gThe property would be very challenging to develop.h

Coco Palms Ventures bought the resort in March 2006, planning a $220 million development to include 200 condos and 48 bungalows.

But the developer decided to put it up for sale in September 2007, partly blaming the county Planning Commission after it rejected a plan for a full-scale fitness spa.

Some residents, such as Hooser, say the developer simply gmissed the marketh and wants a way out.

Coco Palms Ventures could not be reached for comment at press time.

The property remains on the market, but real estate agents said yesterday that there are some serious buyers and a purchase and sale agreement may be in place. This could not be verified at press time.

Hooser first suggested the idea of turning the resort into a park five years ago, but the idea never found footing.

The bill calls for an extensive community process to determine the needs and desires of local residents and a community advisory board composed of local residents, native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, former Coco Palms employees and others who are familiar with the areafs history, the news release says.

Coco Palms was once inhabited by Kauaeifs aliei, and the area around the mouth of the Wailua River was once the birthing place of chiefs and the home of royalty and numerous heiau. In the mid-1800s, it was home to the islandfs last reigning queen, Deborah Kapule, the release says.

Agricultural pursuits around the beginning of the 20th century included the copra and coconut plantation of William Lindeman and numerous rice and taro farmers. Coco Palms also provided the setting for the finale wedding scene in Elvis Presleyfs 1961 gBlue Hawaii.h

The resort still houses 2,000-tree coconut groves and is the largest of only three similar groves in the entire state of Hawaiei. However, it has been deserted for the past 16 years and remains in a state of what Hooserfs bill calls gextreme disrepair,h with the exception of its wedding chapel that continues to host the popular Blue Hawaii weddings, the release states.

To provide public testimony on the bill, e-mail miura@capitol.hawaii.gov or call 808-586-6030. To read the bill in its entirety, visit capitol.hawaii.gov

Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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