VOICES: Coco Palms — Not a good hotel site anymore

Located next to a four-lane highway, in a flood zone, across from a beach that may disappear, in a community that feels we already have more than enough visitors, Coco Palms makes no sense as a hotel site.

Visitors will not want to stay at a resort right next to a four-lane highway. Nor will they want to cross four-lanes of whizzing cars—40,000 per day—to get to the beach—even with a crosswalk. Without an overpass, access to Wailua Beach is already inconvenient and unpleasant; four lanes will make it even worse.

How long will the beach even be there? With global warming and sea level rise, who knows how much of a beach will be left in the years ahead?

The record-breaking flood on the North Shore of Kaua‘i in 2018 showed how extraordinary and more frequent flooding will be on Kaua‘i. Much of the Coco Palms property is in the flood zone. Visitors will not appreciate having to evacuate in the middle of the night because the waters are rising around them. Prospective owners would do well to think about income loss due to recovery and repairs after floods.

Most of all, there is a growing consensus on Kaua‘i that we do not need any more visitor units or any more visitors per day. The pandemic and the ongoing reopening have made it clear: Kaua‘i is out of balance—we have more visitors per day than the island can handle.

Even without a hotel at Coco Palms, our island is reeling from the negative impacts of too many visitors. Our roads are clogged with traffic once again. We are back to planning our lives around the traffic. Our beaches and surf sites, and our recreational, scenic and cultural areas are teeming with people. Kaua‘i residents miss the uncrowded beaches and roads, the slower pace, and the quiet peacefulness we experienced during the shutdown.

Make no mistake, hospitality and aloha are part of who we are, and welcoming visitors is an important part of our economy and destiny. But when the numbers overwhelm and adversely affect our community, it is time to draw the line.

Even the visitor industry recognizes that Kaua‘i has more visitors than it can handle. According to the Kaua‘i Tourism Strategic Plan, the pre-COVID average daily visitors level of 25,000-30,000 visitors exceeded Kaua‘i’s carrying capacity, both environmentally and socially. Astute industry leaders know that overtourism puts the visitor industry at risk as well as the community.

If proper limits are established, tourism can be a “win-win.” Without limits, everyone—the ‘aina, residents, visitors, visitor industry—loses.

It is the destiny of Coco Palms to be more than a hotel site. A group of far-sighted, heartfelt community leaders called I Ola Wailuanui has been working on an exciting new vision for Coco Palms-a vision that honors Coco Palms’ ancient past as part of a dynamic cultural, economic and political center on Kaua‘i that flourished along the life-giving Wailua River, and melds it together with the future we want to see on Kaua‘i.

In its new life in the 21st century, Coco Palms can be a park and cultural center that interprets and celebrates the history of the Wailua ahupua‘a (including its time as a beloved hotel) and serves as a venue for Native Hawaiian arts, crafts, dance, music, and education.

It will be something to be proud of. Something that enhances life and understanding on Kaua‘i.

I suspect that a large majority of Kaua‘i residents would prefer this kind of future for Coco Palms. If you agree, take a stand by signing the petition at bit.ly/wailuanui

Coco Palms is ruined as a hotel site. To invest in this site for a hotel would be unwise. Without community support, it cannot succeed.The people of Kaua‘i have shown again and again that they will not stand by and watch their island be harmed. There is too much good and beautiful about our island and our community that we must protect. It is our kuleana.

•••

JoAnn Yukimura is a former mayor and councilmember who served in elected office on Kaua‘i for 28 years. She started the Kaua‘i Bus and helped to write and secure passage of the first vacation rental and shoreline setback laws. She was also part of the organizing committee that established KIUC. In her early days as a citizen activist, she led the effort to stop high rises on Kaua‘i.

16 Comments
  1. I saw a Vampire once July 18, 2021 12:58 am Reply

    I think the community feels this way too. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes due to higher rental fees in car rental and residential vacation rentals. Definitely not for development it means more taxes from the people.


  2. I saw a Vampire once July 18, 2021 1:20 am Reply

    And the sewage from the Wailua river is acting up. There is a leakage in the sewage system. No doubt the hotels have paid some fines to the EPA. If the EPA was around back in the 1970s.

    That is another problem. Maybe they can make it into a haunted house.


  3. Jennifer Harper July 18, 2021 6:04 am Reply

    Agreed 100%. I don’t even live on Kauai yet but have been coming for years. My husband and I come and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity yearly (except 2020- darned pandemic!). This should be land returned to the people of Kauai. There is no need for a new hotel here nor the traffic it will cause. Let the land return to its rightful purpose. It belongs to the people of Kauai, especially the Kanaka Maoli. It’s time to heed the voices of change.


  4. nobody July 18, 2021 7:19 am Reply

    Just in case you missed this from today’s letters.

    Coco Palms needs a plan

    It’s great to read about Hawaiian and community groups calling for utilizing the Coco Palms site for a cultural center.

    It’s sad to read that they have no plan for constructing or sustaining it. It’s also sad that they forget how the last developers actually set aside over 10 acres to be used as a cultural center, allocated land for the community to have luaus and large gatherings (with parking), and provided parking for beach goers with shuttles transporting folks to the beach.

    They also established a funding method using a portion of the resort fees to sustain and maintain the operations. Too bad those who have this vision now, weren’t able to open their eyes earlier. Auwe!

    Dirk Soma, Lihu‘e


  5. andy johnston July 18, 2021 7:46 am Reply

    Mahalo JoAnn for stating very clearly exactly what so many of us think: DO NOT build another hotel on the Coco Palms site. As someone who has been riding the bike path regularly for some years now, I have watched with amazement and alarm as the eroding coastline in front of this area has wiped out the beach parking lot at the north end of the Wailua River bridge, taken down the shower at Horner’s, and now most of the path between those two is just about ready to tumble into the sea. It’s a scant six more feet to the edge of he highway and guess what folks, the erosion is not going to slow down in the foreseeable future. I would recommend to anyone not familiar with this area to simply walk that stretch of path, especially at high tide with a bit of swell, and be prepared for a pretty mind-blowing “reality check”.


  6. andrew July 18, 2021 7:55 am Reply

    Imagine if the Local and State government can make a greater community area and foresight for future planning. Create an area that benefits the citizens of Kauai and creates options for if and when the road and/or bridges fail. There will be a severe crisis when the road is destroyed, and re-positioning of the road can be drawn into the new community plan.


  7. drsurf July 18, 2021 8:19 am Reply

    Well said JoAnn, many areas touched upon that so many of us feel. The traffic is already so frustrating to sit in daily, just imagine two years of demo and construction work and then guest traffic. One of the preceding management teams wanted to shuttle guests to and from the beach adding to the problem.
    Many are looking at the Coco Palms of the 60’s and 70’s longing for that style of hospitality and that’s not going to happen in this day of corporate ownership and entitled visitor.
    30 years later it’s time for a new plan.


  8. Joseph M. George July 18, 2021 9:46 am Reply

    Ms. Yukimura is 100% right that Coco Palms is no longer a viable hotel site. People don’t fly to Hawaii to experience 4 lanes of noisy traffic next to a tiny, disappearing beach. Who wants to sit on a beach with road noise 30 feet behind them? That’s hardly the Hawaii we want them to remember.

    Stillwater Equity Partners, made an ill-advised $22 million loan on an even worse hotel business plan. The borrower’s equity is gone and likely some portion of Stillwater’s $22 million principal balance of the loan is gone. Worse, Stillwater is owed another $10-11 million in default interest, fees and other amounts due from the borrower so Stillwater’s basis is even higher than $22 million. At the July 26 foreclosure auction, Stillwater will bid their mortgage amount and nobody else will bid more. Stillwater will then gain title to the Coco Palms site free and clear of any liens.

    The problem with Ms. Yukimura’s proposal is that none of the Kauai not for profit or Kauai government agencies have the money to pay Stillwater for title to the Coco Palms site? Stillwater may not think it is worth $22 million but until they accept the fact that the site is worth less, they will not sell and site will continue to look the same. Stillwater is not going to just donate the land so a cultural center can be created. How do you make money on a cultural center and don’t be naive to think money will not be a factor.

    Someone investing +/- $20 million for the Coco Palms site is going to want to create something out of it that earns a return on their investment. Don’t hold out for a billionaire to step in. Billionaires didn’t become billionaires by just tossing money into every good for the public cause that is pitched to them.


  9. EddieG July 18, 2021 2:30 pm Reply

    Has anyone ever discussed using a portion of the land to install an electrolyser for the production of hydrogen? Waialeale already supplies plenty of H2O each year that finds its way to the ocean. Imagine using some of that H2O and splitting through electrolysis into clean (O) Oxygen and (H) Hydrogen? The Hydrogen can be stored and distributed for use in commercial equipment, Fuel Cell automobiles, and stationary fuel cell generators. The science that could be taught to current and future generations of Kauai’s Keiki’s will create the sustainable energy future and job opportunities sought. The revenues it would produce in a public/private venture could support and preserver the historical and cultural significance of this land. Yes, the value of this land is far greater than another resort.


  10. KauaiFarmMan July 18, 2021 4:56 pm Reply

    I agree not a good place for a hotel. But can we please stop using the illusion of global warming to justify our arguments. Believe it, that beach will be there long after a new hotel gets built and decays. Sea level rise predictions have been way off. According to Tart Gore major coastal cities should of been under water already and they are not. Don’t use pseudo science to justify what you want.


    1. Steven McMacken July 20, 2021 10:47 am Reply

      The “illusion” of global warming?

      “Hello . . . Hello . . . (raps on head) . . . is anybody home?”


  11. overklok July 19, 2021 12:02 am Reply

    I am really getting bored of Kauai residents whining about traffic.


  12. Jan Dunn July 19, 2021 7:49 am Reply

    Bad location, not safe. In middle of huge traffic jam that would get worse.


  13. kauaidoug July 19, 2021 8:04 am Reply

    Restore the grounds as we , and the world, saw the lagoon in ‘Blue Hawaii”. Give area back to all the people, all Kauaians No darn hotel!


  14. David Katz July 19, 2021 7:25 pm Reply

    Thanks JoAnn for such a clear and factual statement of the truth. It’s hard to see how anyone could disagree with this. For all the reasons she stated, it’s plain as day that the site can never be a hotel again. The only question is how the County can make sure of this. I know they can’t take it by eminent domain without paying the current owner fair market value. Could they revoke the entitlement to have a resort there on the grounds that conditions have changed? Could they require that the owner demolish and remove the current structure because it is no longer safe? These things might reduce the value enough to make the park/cultural center more economically viable.


  15. mana July 19, 2021 8:39 pm Reply

    I’m amazed that Joanne didn’t have the foresight or the smarts to see this problem growing while she was in office. The Kapa’a traffic problem has been growing for years; much of it under Yukimura’s administration. So now, when she’s out of office she has the answers? I think she’s only good for Monday night quarterbacking.


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