Since that fateful day of Sept. 11, 1992 when Hurricane Iniki blew across our island, the historic and venerable Coco Palms Hotel has sat derelict as a constant reminder. We are reminded daily of that powerful storm, of the numerous broken promises made by various developers and owners since then, and of the impotence of our local government to do anything about it.
For the past 26 years, the property has been occupied on and off by both the homeless and the hopeful. There have been fires whose origins were listed as “suspicious” and every few months there are fitful seemingly half-baked efforts to cut the grass and trim the coconut trees alongside the road. Wedding and movie tours, and now apparently a taco truck, periodically provide human activity, all the while the decay of the structure and grounds continue seemingly unabated.
Shame on all of us for allowing the desecration to continue.
According to the book, “The Story of the Coco Palms Hotel” by David P. Penhallow, the Coco Palms Resort is on an ancient site of Hawaiian royalty and hospitality situated at the mouth of the Wailua River … well known to Hawaiians as a place of many legends and events of historical, cultural and religious significance. This is the landing place of the Kahiki voyagers, who came ashore here at Kauai at about 500 AD.” (Wikipedia)
Our community can and must come together to turn the desecration into restoration. This sacred and historical property deserves to be honored and preserved as a community resource and testament to the history and culture that precedes all of us. Yes, the Coco Palms Resort and the legacy of Grace Guslander, and the many guests who have passed through in modern times must be remembered and honored, but more importantly is the history, legends, and culture of the original residents of this land.
Five years ago, the present Coco Palms Resort developers came to the county with a multitude of promises, all focused upon “restoring the Coco Palms Resort to its former glory.” It was a siren’s call too alluring and powerful to resist.
Since that point, there has been an array of excuses for the lack of progress.
In short, the present developers, like the others who have come before them have not been able to close the deal. Once again, Lucy is poised to break her promise and move the football, and once again that incredible property located at the base of Kuamoo Road will be left hanging in limbo.
My hope is that our government and community leaders will recognize the opportunity that now presents itself. Our soon to be outgoing Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. recently stated his lack of confidence in the present development scheme, and expressed an interest in finding other options for the property.
If done properly, this could be his legacy.
This is not a new conversation and residents have proposed community based solutions in the past. One such group that I was a part of, the “Friends of Coco Palms,” had in fact secured a tentative commitment from the state via Sen. Ron Kouchi for over $200,000 to conduct the research and local outreach needed to develop a true community based vision and plan for the Coco Palms property.
Unfortunately, when the private development proposal was put on the table, the still in its infancy public option then fell to the wayside.
The “Friends of Coco Palms” community option, while still in its very early state of development, envisioned a cultural, educational, historic park that preserved elements of the modern Coco Palms and also reclaimed the ancient history honoring the Hawaiian Royalty that resided in the area.
The thought was there would be places set aside for music, for hula halau, and for cultural practitioners to practice and teach. There would be perhaps a canoe hale offering convenient access to the nearby Wailua River, and expanding mauka beyond the coconut grove there could be small farms and the growing of kalo and other native crops.
Since most of the land involved is already public and owned by the state, it was further envisioned that the state, the county, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamehameha Schools and other Hawaiian Trusts could possibly partner in the purchase of the privately owned portion, via eminent domain if necessary.
Clearly, it is time to revive this discussion once again and move forward in the development and implementation of a community based plan. One that is guided by Native Hawaiians rooted in these lands who know best the history, the culture, and the intrinsic values upon which that culture is based.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.