Clock ticking on Coco Palms rebuild

LIHUE — The owners of Coco Palms Resort in Wailua announced Wednesday they have sent most of the reconstruction permits to the county and have picked their team to rebuild the hotel.

“We have submitted just about all plans for building permits,” said Chad Waters, member of the newly formed Coco Palms Hui. “The remainder of the submittals will happen in the next few weeks.”

Also on Wednesday, the Kauai County Council introduced a bill that would make it nearly impossible to rebuild Coco Palms exactly the way it was. But Bill 2502 needs at least six to eight weeks to run its due process at the council before becoming law, which would give enough time for developers to secure permits under the current law.

Project architect Ron Agor said he is nervous about the “signs of inconsistency” in the administration’s position regarding the Coco Palms project, but he believes he can work with them.

“I’m confident that we’re going to work through this and we’re going to start construction in February,” he said.

Up until a few months ago, the iconic Coco Palms Resort pretty much had been served its last meal and was on its way to the electric chair. The decaying property, once a poster child for the state’s visitor industry, has been shut down since Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992. It is the only major hotel that never reopened following the storm.

The last set of rebuilding permits expired Jan. 25, after eight years of non-action. Soon after, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. announced support to repeal the last so-called Iniki Ordinance, which allows restoration of non-conforming buildings to their pre-Iniki condition.

Meanwhile, the Legislature approved a $276,000 grant for the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust to start a community-based process to ultimately raise some $20 million to acquire the property for the public benefit. And rebuilding the 396-room hotel was not included in HILT’s plans.

But a Hail Mary put the rebuilding of Coco Palms back on track, after Waters announced Aug. 8 the property was in escrow and he had already pulled $50,000 worth of demolition permits.

A week later, Waters and Tyler Greene, also from Coco Palms Hui, announced they selected Agor Architects for the project.

“Ron Agor is probably the most experienced architect in Hawaii when it comes to hurricane rebuilding or renovation projects on Kauai,” Waters said in a press release.

On Monday, Waters and Greene sent another press release, naming Unlimited Construction Services, a Hawaii-owned company, as the contractor for the rebuilding of the hotel.

“Teaming with a very reputable and experienced local contractor with similar values and principles was a very important pre-requisite to Coco Palms Hui’s decision,” the release states.

Waters said Craig Kawakami was hired to put up a dust fence around the property and the clearing.

“Unlimited Construction will assemble its construction team and hire the best that Kauai has to offer, likely including Craig (Kawakami) and his guys for some components of the project,” Waters said.

Bill 2502 passed first reading unanimously on Wednesday. It now heads to a public hearing Oct. 23, and to the council’s Planning Committee for further work. From there, the bill bounces back to the full council for second and final reading, and then to Carvalho’s signature for approval.

“I’m not sure where this is really going,” Agor said. “I was under the impression we weren’t going to have problems.”

He said he already filed electronically the majority of the required building permits, and is only waiting on a number provided by the county so he can send the blue prints. In the next few weeks, he will be sending the plans to rebuild the cottages in the back of Coco Palms, he said.

Before the ordinance runs its due process at the council and becomes law, there should be enough time for the building permits to be approved, Agor said.

Though dust screens have already been placed, Agor said the demolition has not started yet. The owners are waiting for the building permits to go through to begin taking down the irreparable structures.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@thegardenisland.com

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