Well, it seems hardly anyone is happy with the developers of Coco Palms resort. Complaints are growing that nothing is being done with this property that has stood shuttered and damaged since Hurricane Iniki struck the island in 1992.
Both former Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and current Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami have expressed some dissatisfaction with the lack of progress and have made it clear they believe the county has done its part and the developers have not.
There are calls for turning the land into a community park. There have been calls for it to be turned into kupuna housing. Calls for a cultural park. Leave it as it is. Flatten it. Hold concerts there. Calls for Larry Rivera to hold more wedding ceremonies there. Calls for the ghost of Elvis to revisit and shoot another wedding scene for a remake of “Blue Hawaii.”
Some of those are good ideas and should be pursued.
But before — like everyone else, it seems — we chastise Tyler Greene and Chad Waters, the men behind Coco Palm Hui, let’s look at a few things.
First, Coco Palms was sitting there for 20 years in its rundown condition, its glory days forgotten, long before Greene and Waters arrived. There were a few proposals to develop the property then, but nothing came of them. It’s hard to find anyone on this island who seriously has led a project to do something with Coco Palms other than talk about it.
Greene and Waters have invested more money, and more time, than anyone, into Coco Palms, over the past few years. They had a vision and we hope they still have a vision. We hope they have not given up (though most people have no way of knowing that since Greene and Waters aren’t saying much of anything these days). They could have been like the millions of others who drove by Coco Palms, said “what a shame,” and continued on their way. They didn’t. Sure, they saw an opportunity to make some money but, frankly, these are smart guys, they likely had other opportunities to make money and not have had half the headaches.
Consider, besides the estimated $20 million to buy the land, they have spent around $6 million for property taxes, permits, fees, demolition, a dust fence, and cleanup of the buildings on the property. And we’re condemning them for not doing enough as quickly as we think they should?
Their challenges to restore this once-iconic land were already major and many before some Hawaiian sovereignty advocates suddenly took up residence on the land and claimed it belonged to them through ancestral rights. Not sure why that never came up when the land was sitting there vacant for so many years. A large group remained on the property for more than a year before they were removed by law enforcement. That certainly seems like a long time to remove someone who claimed they owned the land that another person had paid for the rights to own and develop.
Let’s just say if someone moved into your backyard tomorrow and claimed they owned it through ancestral rights, you would call police and expect law enforcement to come remove them promptly. You would not expect to have to spend a year in court trying to evict someone from land you bought.
The point here is that this legal battle set the the project timeline back more than a year, and even more troublesome, it likely caused investors and potential investors to have second thoughts. Would you invest in a development tied up more than a year because someone claimed the land as their own, moved in and refused to go until so ordered by the court? Even then, it took a raid of law officers from Oahu to clear the property. And this case isn’t over, mind you, as the claimants of the land have not gone away and are appealing. This entire episode was something that the developers had not foreseen and one from which they are still likely trying to overcome when talking to investors about their plans for a 350-room, $145 million resort.
Do we all hope to see something done with Coco Palms? Of course. No one wants to drive by and look at these pieces of the past still standing in despair. We all agree something must be done.
Are the developers just going to give up this land in which they invested more than $25 million so it can become a park? No, they are not. If someone wants to pay them a fair price for it, we’re guessing they will listen. We don’t blame them. We would not be surprised if another buyer came forth. If they found a way to part with this property, they would do it.
Does it seem like the developers aren’t following through? Yes, it does. But considering what they have invested in time and money into Coco Palms, it’s clear that they have much at stake. Many of the delays are beyond their control.
Finally, we believe Greene and Waters have done a terrible job of communicating with the community about their plans. They may consider this a private venture that should be kept private, but it’s far from private. We understand trying to secure financing for a major resort project isn’t something in which you include the public. But we do call for Greene and Waters to improve their public relations efforts on Kauai, if they are serious about continuing with their plans for Coco Palms.
The community won’t support people it does not know, so hold a public meeting. Hold two or three or four. Talk to regular people, not just the officials. Let them know who you are and what you stand for and why you’re here and why you want to restore Coco Palms to its glory days. Give them an update on how things stand. You must do a better job of connecting with the people of this island. They need to know you. You must do a better job of keeping the community informed about what’s happening at Coco Palms.
Perhaps then, your worst critics will become your best supporters.
Well, that might be expecting too much.