Preserving Hawaiian culture

KAPAA — Frances Dinnan hopes the new Coco Palms hotel will breathe life into the land.

“This is a sacred place; there’s a lot of historical significance; and we want to tell our stories again,” Dinnan said. “There are so many stories people don’t know, and it’s our responsibility to share them.”

The land was once the home of Queen Deborah Kapule, the last queen of Kauai.

Demolition of Coco Palms, which was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, began in June.

On Saturday, a group of 25 volunteers from the Kauai Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, Kauai Community College, Hawaii Small Business Development Center, Queen Deborah Kapule Hawaiian Civic Club and the County of Kauai took to the land, clearing the way for a cultural center.

“It’s a big job — it’s been like this since the hurricane,” Dinnan said.

The developers of the hotel, Coco Palms Hui, LLC, plan to build the cultural center on the 4-acre piece of land, where the tennis courts used to be.

Dirk Soma, president of the Kauai Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, said it will take about a year to get the land fully cleared.

“We have to get rid of the lights, fence and concrete wall used for tennis practice,” he said.

The chamber’s Cultural Advisory Committee has been working with Coco Palms Hui, LLC, for about two years, advising the company on the cultural preservation aspect of the project, Soma added.

“These four acres have been left behind for 20 years, and it’s exciting to see what this land can be,” Soma said. “This is our way of lending our hand to this great project.”

Bill Fernandez, vice president of the chamber, gives credit to Tyler Greene, co-owner of Coco Palms Hui, LLC, for addressing the cultural importance of the area.

“It’s amazing to have a developer like Tyler. He wants to have a cultural place and is willing to take the time and money to make sure it’s a priority,” Fernandez said. “It’s not just about the money for him, and that’s a rare thing.”

Plans for the cultural center include a ukulele and hula school, and classes in Hawaiian culture and language, he said.

“The idea is to perpetuate Hawaiian culture,” Fernandez said.

The cultural center will be open to everyone.

“We want people to understand where they’re from and instill pride,” Dinnan said.

Once completed, the land will boast a 350-room resort, complete with 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas, in addition to the cultural center.

John Latkiewicz, director of the Hawaii Small Business Development Center, volunteered his time at Coco Palms because he wanted to be part of the community.

“It’s such a historic place, and I never got a chance to see it,” he said. “I also like the fellowship.”

Greene said seeing everyone come together to clean the land was special.

“I really appreciate the spirit and aloha,” he said. “There are plenty of people who said this was never going to get done, and we were crazy to try. But it’s these kinds of things that make it all worth it.”

The resort is set to open in 2017 under the Hyatt brand, and be named Coco Palms Resort by Hyatt. Coco Palms Hui, LLC, chose to partner with the Hyatt because both companies understand the importance of the historical and cultural side of the property, Greene said.

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