Mayor ‘not happy’ about Coco Palms

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Coco Palms is seen from its main entry driveway showing the pedestrian bridge that linked guest rooms with retail shops in this 2016 photo.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Asbestos removal is conducted at buildings in the former Coco Palms Resort in Wailua in this file photo.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    What once was the stately Coco Palms Resort across Kuhio Highway from Wailua Beach is now a shell awaiting final demolition before a planned rebuild, as seen in this December 2017 photo.

  • Contributed photo

    County Councilmember Derek Kawakami

  • Contributed photo

    County Council Chair Mel Rapozo

  • Contributed photo

    Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.

  • Courtesy Urban Pacific Communications

    Tyler Greene

WAILUA — The ongoing melodrama about the future of the former Coco Palms Resort property in Wailua took a new turn last week when Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. gave a one-word answer to a question during an interview.

“Do you believe the hotel’s developers have the capacity to see the project to completion?”

The mayor’s answer: “No.”

He continued: “I’m going to say that comfortably. I’m not happy.”

“We gave them so many chances,” he said, even after the hotel grounds were occupied by Hawaiian sovereignty advocates, who managed to frustrate efforts to dislodge them for more than a year. Ultimately, a court ordered the occupiers evicted, though part of the case remains on appeal.

Perhaps significantly, two candidates running to replace the term-limited Carvalho as mayor — County Council Chair Mel Rapozo and Councilmember Derek Kawakami — agree with him that the Coco Palms developers have failed to deliver on their promises and that finding other adaptive reuses for the site may be appropriate. Rapozo said he plans to hold a County Council hearing to explore what’s happening with Coco Palms.

The two principals in Honolulu- based GreeneWaters Group — Tyler Greene and Chad Waters, who own Coco Palms and plan to develop the dilapidated resort through Coco Palms Hui LLC — say the project is still going forward and took immediate issue with Carvalho’s statement, saying the comment surprised them because the mayor “has been a very strong supporter of the project from the very beginning.”

Indeed, Carvalho has repeatedly made optimistic comments about Coco Palms in the past, which is a major reason his change of attitude may be a significant new obstacle for the developers to overcome.

Despite Carvalho’s statement, Greene and Waters are insistent that the project is still on track, though Greene said they do not yet have any of the 24 building permits needed to begin construction. He also declined to identify any general contractor that may have been chosen for the project.

The GreeneWaters Group has never been willing to discuss sources of money for the project or to identify investors.

“As I did not hear what the mayor said to you and the context of the conversation you had with him, I am not able to comment on what you claim that he said,” Greene said in an extended email response to a series of questions posed by The Garden Island on Friday.

Carvalho’s tone was measured, but his frustration clear.

“We had a good plan in place in working with the developer. We did complete the bigger picture, and we completed removal of the asbestos,” he said, and other hazardous materials that had remained in the hotel complex since it was devastated and closed by damage from Hurricane Iniki in 1992. In that respect, the mayor said, the hotel site is as free of dangerous materials and wreckage as it was just before the hurricane hit.

One of Carvalho’s major complaints is that, in many respects, more than 25 years after Iniki, Coco Palms remains a blighted presence on Kuhio Highway. It is badly overgrown and the shells of its buildings are covered in many places with graffiti. Guest parking garages beneath the remaining concrete frames of the original structures are filled with fetid water.

“It sits there overgrown,” he said of Coco Palms. “I told them to maintain it, but it’s not happening.”

Greene took issue with the mayor’s comment.

“We like to cut the grass down every couple of months,” he said. “We are securing the appropriate machines to give it another full cut. We currently have a full-time security and maintenance person on property. We are about to start the pre-construction phase.”

When a TGI reporter visited the property on Thursday afternoon, however, there was no sign of any maintenance or security personnel. Gates were standing wide open and, though the reporter was on the property for nearly an hour, he was never challenged.

Ironically, however, for the first time since Hurricane Iniki, it is now possible to get something to eat at Coco Palms. That is due to a food truck claiming to have “the best Mexican food in Hawaii” that has taken up residence in a former hotel parking lot right at the intersection of Kuhio Highway and Kuamoo Road.

Greene said the food truck was allowed to set up there to serve food to people taking occasional guided tours.

Doubts about the ability of GreeneWaters to deliver a completed hotel redevelopment have dogged the project for more than five years. Over the last few months, TGI has discussed the status of Coco Palms with a number of top county government officials, including some in the Planning Department, all of whom have expressed extreme skepticism that the project will ever be completed. Carvalho has been about the only high government official who had previously stayed out of the public Coco Palms fray.

During the eviction trial, which stretched out over more than a month, broad speculation arose about whether Coco Palms actually had the investor backing that would be needed to see through what has been estimated to be a $145 million project. There were repeated reports during the trial of investors walking away from Coco Palms because of the potential ramifications of the project being the ongoing subject of opposition within the Native Hawaiian community.

Greene and Waters have been asked by TGI repeatedly over the last three years to identify their investors, but they have never agreed to do so. Greene said Coco Palms also does not yet have insurance to protect its senior construction loan. Construction drawings have not been completed, Greene said.

Fall from grace

The rotting and filthy complex drivers see as they pass by Coco Palms today is far from what the resort was in its heyday, when it was the darling of Hollywood celebrities and Kauai’s best resort. Coco Palms opened in 1952, partly on land leased from what became the state. The property today remains about one-third on state land, though Coco Palms Hui owns the land on which the major structures are situated along Kuhio Highway.

Elvis Presley may have been Coco Palms’ most famous guest. He filmed the movie “Blue Hawaii” on the grounds and stayed there as a guest on many occasions. But Presley was far from the only celebrity who frequented Coco Palms, and his movie far from the only one filmed there or nearby. Other stars associated with Coco Palms in its glory days in the 1950s and 1960s included Rita Hayworth, Jose Ferrer and Aldo Ray.

But by the 1980s, as Kauai saw increased resort development and became a better known tourist destination, Coco Palms began to fade and proved increasingly unable to compete with properties like the St. Regis Resort in Princeville or the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. After Iniki, an insurance dispute arose regarding the damage to Coco Palms and it was not repaired.

Since Iniki, questions have only become more numerous about whether Coco Palms can be returned to anything approaching its former glory, even if GreeneWaters is able to proceed with construction. The group purchased the property in 2016. In 2016, GreeneWaters announced an agreement with Hyatt Hotels’ Unbound program under which Hyatt will manage any reopened Coco Palms, which is envisioned to have 350 rooms.

But doubts have dogged the project continually, not least because traffic congestion in Kapaa is often at its worst on the section of Kuhio Highway that the hotel fronts. Traffic noise, exhaust emissions and increasingly severe congestion have always loomed as obstacles a new Coco Palms might not be able to surmount.

Carvalho’s new pessimism about whether Coco Palms has a future was shared by Kawakami.

“It’s a challenge,” Kawakami said of Coco Palms’ plight. “That beach is not a good swimming beach. When I was growing up, my parents would never let me go in the water there. The highway is going to be further congested.

“The mayor hit the nail on the head. There are a lot of people saying, ‘Here we go again and are we going to be stuck with it as an eyesore for decades to come?’”

Rapozo was even more forceful. In a statement released Friday night, Rapozo said: “Like the mayor, I am concerned about the ability of the developers to complete this project. I met with Chad Waters on July 26 and he (said) construction would begin shortly. Construction has not started. I am planning to post an agenda item within the next month, in our Planning Committee, to get an update from Chad and Tyler on the future of Coco Palms and their ability to complete the project as promised.

“If they are unable to deliver what they committed to, I would be in full support of the mayor’s idea to partner with the state and private sector to convert that property into a cultural education facility.”

Though plans have been announced to develop a cultural center as part of the resort, both Carvalho and Kawakami said the property could be better used by being converted to a cultural education center that could attract students and residents from all over the state.

Carvalho said the existing concrete shells of the former hotel buildings could be repurposed as dormitories or student housing.

“If I had a chance, I would transform that property into a cultural site,” Carvalho said. “Take that entire property and shift it over to the University of Hawaii system. People could come and visit,” and find concentrated Hawaiian cultural education resources available nowhere else in the state.

•••

Allan Parachini of Kilauea is a former public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.

 

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to correct the figure for estimated cost of the project to $145 million. It was also changed to reflect that it was not repaired following Hurricane Iniki due to an insurance dispute. It was purchased in 2016, and it was not purchased out of foreclosure.

24 Comments
  1. Charlie Chimknee September 9, 2018 5:47 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    The photo in today’s article reminded me of the Ancinet Ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

    And so it was easy to envision a modern Ancient Ruins of Coco Palms almost erased from the face of the earth by the ferocity of the famous 9-11 of ‘92 Hurricane Iniki.

    And Council Chairman Mel Rapozo has it right describing a new venue fronting Wailua Bay, an Hawaiian Edu-Cultural Center adding to that Hawaiian and Local Crafts, Hawaiian Entertainment, Delicious Food Court, and a large tropical swimming pool meandering the property as a daytime entertainment for local families and children as well as visitors preferring the safety of life guarded pools than the open ocean front of Wailua Bay less suitable for casual swimming and wading.

    Restore Coco Palms, it doesn’t need to be an expensive hotel, it can become a daily destination for all visitors and all local families and an educational center for Hawaiian Studies, where all keiki of Kaua’i can grow up in and learn the Hawaiian Culture and Language regardless of their own family culture.

    And as I think Council Chairman Mel Rapozo said, bring students from all the islands to learn a more deeper knowledge of the Hawaiian Culture, housing them there at the same time, perhaps expanding that to all of Polynesia as an Educational Park.

    Mahalo,

    Charles


  2. MisterM September 9, 2018 6:18 am Reply

    Just tear the damn thing down and make a park out of it. Should have condemned the place years ago and insisted it be demolished. The site is wholly unsuited for any hotel.

    That the Mayor used to support the idiotic notion of placing a 350 room upscale hotel in that location just shows how blithering incompetent he is. Stick to football Mr Mayor. Everything else leave to people who know what they are talking about.


  3. Ruth September 9, 2018 6:57 am Reply

    No building permits, failed Flood Permit, Chad Waters cannot legally sell real estate!
    Dahhhh


  4. Ruth September 9, 2018 7:00 am Reply

    No building permits, failed flood permit, Chad Waters has no Real Estate license…Yup


    1. Kauai 🧜‍♀️ September 11, 2018 11:53 am Reply

      @Ruth of course he’s not a real estate agent where do you get your information from?


      1. Ruthann Caudill September 15, 2018 3:36 am Reply

        Thank you for asking.
        I think it is important for people to know that Chad Waters lost his license in California, and cannot have a Real Estate License in Hawaii.
        Please find comment below.


  5. Reverend Malama Robinson September 9, 2018 7:53 am Reply

    It’s never to late to do the right thing….
    Be pono and uphold the laws!
    The whole world is watching….
    HAWAIIANKINGDOM.ORG


  6. kimo September 9, 2018 8:19 am Reply

    Finally, an elected official speaking the truth about Coco Palms. This project will never finish with the current developers. Years of lies and broken promises. If I recall correctly there were approved building permits back in 2013 but the developer failed to pick them up (and pay the fees). At the very least the property could have been mowed, maintained, and the eyesore minimized. The front structure should be removed and the roadway widened asap. Way past overdue on this mess.


  7. Ruthann Caudill September 9, 2018 8:23 am Reply

    1. Failed flood permit years ago.
    2. No US Fish and Wildlife Service “Take” Permits
    3.Chad Waters cannot work in Real Estate in Hawaii
    4. No building permits after years of “owning” the property on a “Special Warranty Deed.”


  8. manongindashadow0711 September 9, 2018 8:57 am Reply

    Well Mayor Carvalho, “that’s a horse of a different color!” Why didn’t you suggest your ideas before going along with Greene Waters Hui. And the two councilmen(who’s running for mayor) same thing “wishy washy like the mayor!”


  9. Uncleaina September 9, 2018 9:02 am Reply

    Pretty bald face lie saying there’s security there 24/7. Guy, we ALL drive past there every day and no ones ever seen anyone doing security. This ain’t the mainland and your mainland lies don’t work here.


  10. D. Watson September 9, 2018 9:28 am Reply

    It’s time to accept the inevitable: if the citizens of Kauai want the Coco Palms to be anything more than an eyesore they are going to have to foot the bill. It’s on the wrong side of two busy roads. Even the beach it is close to is nowhere near a “resort” class beach–ignoring the someday-to-be four lane highway in the way. Oh, and it’s in designated flood hazard and tsunami evacuation zones.

    If redeveloping Coco Palms made any business sense it would have happened long ago. Having UH develop it as a cultural center? The state doesn’t have two nickels to put into such a project, even if they cared to. It’s just as realistic to think that it could be turned into a Park and Ride for the new Kealia to Airport/Lihue light rail line. So we get to pick from a) living with the eyesore, or b) we foot the bill to buy it, demolish it, and turn the land into some kind of park/nature reserve–whatever costs the least. Why waste more time waiting for a redevelopment that is not going to happen?

    Elvis is dead. So is the Coco Palms.


  11. Debra Kekaualua September 9, 2018 10:20 am Reply

    Warriors rising and claiming what is rightfully ours. Pooh ting CocoPalms and all the oppressor “doubts”, police raids that were stoked by U.S. government people without credentials not to mention money backers, or atooi, or the critical habitat that is now finally federally backed as is the Bell Stone Heiau near Opaekaa falls. We are prevailing, we havent ever forgotten the truth and we have the integrity to continue moving towards the goal. Imua!


    1. PauloT September 10, 2018 10:51 am Reply

      Debra, you are not a warrior and you are not Hawaiian.


  12. hutch September 9, 2018 10:40 am Reply

    Allan Parcheesi strikes again with his obvious bias. There are two candidates for mayor and he chooses to focus on only one of them. The Garden Island sets new lows all the time with the people it chooses to write its articles. No wonder newspapers are folding right and left around the country.


    1. Allan parachini September 9, 2018 6:24 pm Reply

      Uh, “Hutch,” you might want to actually READ the story, which mentions and quotes BOTH candidates. Have a nice day.


  13. Evelyn de Buhr September 9, 2018 12:05 pm Reply

    Coco Palms should be a Hawaiian Cultural Center. No hotel will ever be successful there because of the highway proximity. No one in his right mind would invest in it as a hotel or commercial venture. It’s a no brainer. Save the palm grove and allow it to be fabulous and appropriate as a much needed Cultural Center.


  14. pauloT September 9, 2018 12:08 pm Reply

    Having the Coco Palms property under the umbrella of the University as a cultural center would be ideal. Over the years we have had multiple opportunities to rescind the resort’s rebuild permit, as the developers missed one deadline after another.

    Let’s get it done this time. Raise the structure and implement a setback further mauka for the cultural center. That can allow room to expand the highway in the future to accommodate the gridlocked traffic flow which is not going to diminish at this location.

    Keep the cultural center mostly open space and nature, with minimal buildings and minimal vehicles to lessen gridlock impacts.


    1. debra kekaualua September 11, 2018 1:08 pm Reply

      NO corporations wanted or needed, ESpecially U.H. who cant even fulfill the promise to Pila Kikuchi KCC library room offer twelve years earlier; how about their “management of mauna kea or the corporate scribes that want to americanize dummies that have the name PauloT. Name like that could lend you a boot back to mexico, illegal immigration! you are the one that is not a warrior or hawaiian.


  15. MICHAEL WEHRLY September 9, 2018 12:16 pm Reply

    maybe a job for pac source if either one delevoples


  16. Suzan Kelsey Brooks September 10, 2018 4:22 am Reply

    So Rip Van Carvalho and the two councilmen mentioned have finally awakened to the reality of Coco Palms. Where has this wisdom been all these years? Their combined tenures in office should have been more than enough to survive Iniki, raze the site, and create something more suitable to its location, nearby traffic conditions, and the needs of Kauai’s residents.


  17. Ruthann Caudill September 10, 2018 7:40 pm Reply

    CocoPalms Hui was sued in California.
    Does anyone in Kauai do any sort of background check?


  18. Ruthann Caudill September 10, 2018 7:47 pm Reply

    By Sharon Simonson
    Mar 18, 2007, 9:00pm PDT
    Updated Mar 15, 2007, 12:47pm
    The founder of a troubled San Jose-based real estate investment company and its former executives could face loss of their personal assets under an order approved by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joseph Huber.


  19. debra kekaualua September 16, 2018 11:56 am Reply

    “Background Checks” Why do that, when the entire group top to bottom corporate counties and their many directors, lawyers, judges et al, known criminals that lie, squirm and lost their integrity when they presented for voting in the rigged gigs. Past, present, and future status via these kinds of “rambos” is the reason we are as slaves to the biggest bully on the planet and original terrorists decades earlier. Read ‘Overthrow’ by Kinzer. Front cover “Americas century of regime changes Hawaii to Iraq”. ‘KPD Blue’ is also a book that challenges those who do not believe what is truth nor has integrity.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.