WAILUA — The iconic Coco Palms Resort in Wailua received a new breath of life. An Oahu-based group of investors announced Thursday the property is in escrow, and they have already secured demolition permits.
“This is so exciting,” singer-songwriter Larry Rivera screamed as he walked onto the property, both hands in the air throwing shakas. He started his career at Coco Palms in 1951, and worked there until the hotel shut down following Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
“If everything goes well, we’ll start construction in the first or second quarter of next year,” said Chad Waters, one of the members of the newly-formed Coco Palms Hui LLC.
Waters and Tyler Green represent a group of local investors who want to rebuild the property as a “2014 version of the original Coco Palms.”
“We pulled the (demolition) permits today, we actually pulled 28 separate demo permits,” Waters said Thursday. “It was about $50,000 in demo permits.”
In about four to six weeks, the Hui intends to submit building plans in accordance with the last remaining Iniki Ordinance, which allows for the restoration of non-conforming structures to their pre-Iniki condition, without current, stricter health and safety standards. Once rebuilding starts, Waters said it will take between 12 to 24 months to deliver a hotel close to what it was like before the hurricane.
Waters said the 396-room Coco Palms will be rebuilt with the existing square footage, under the guidance of what is allowed by the Iniki Ordinance. The three main buildings will be stripped down to their concrete structure. All wooden buildings will be rebuilt just the way it was.
“We’re going to highlight the Elvis (Presley) bungalow, Larry Rivera — all of the things which made Coco Palms special we’d like to continue,” he said.
The 83-year-old Rivera could hardly contain his excitement, screaming like a teenager and lifting up his hands several times.
“I talk to (Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.) a lot,” he said. “I said, ‘Bernard — I call him Bernard — 90 percent of the local voters want Coco Palms back, do something, help them.’”
At noon, workers from Craig Kawakami Builders gathered for a blessing of the hotel before they started removing overgrown weeds on the perimeter of property to install dust screens.
Waters said workers will be placing 1,500 linear-feet of dust screens around the property, and security will tightened to stop vandalism and theft.
The property is still in escrow — for an undisclosed amount — until the building permits are obtained, according to Waters.
Coco Palms Ventures LLC held building permits for eight years, but could not find the right investors to rebuild the hotel. Their permits expired in January. But Waters said those permits were for a complete demolition and rebuild under a different plan.
“That doesn’t affect us at all because we are not using that plan,” he said. “We’re rebuilding what is here.”
On July 9, with support from Carvalho and Planning Director Michael Dahilig, the Kauai Planning Commission voted to repeal the last Iniki Ordinance.
Waters said the project now has the support of Carvalho and Dahilig, and the Iniki Ordinance is still law. The Hui has the right to rebuild the property the way it was, “and that’s what we intend to do.”
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org