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Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 1:00 am | Updated: 2:03 pm, Thu Feb 5, 2015.

WAILUA — The excitement over recent reports of outside interests looking at a Coco Palms redevelopment has officials giving tempered but optimistic updates.

Although rumors that developers with a major project are moving to purchase the property remain unsubstantiated, supporters of the development are speaking cautiously but optimistically.

Former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, who is now a Realtor, is said to be involved in negotiations on behalf of interested parties.

She said it is too soon in the process to be releasing any information regarding a development.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said that moving forward on the demolition and remediation of the Coco Palms property is an important goal of his administration. He said the future of that property is important to everyone on the island.

“We are willing to assist any prospective buyer to the extent that we legally can and are hopeful that these latest discussions will result in a transaction that will put the Coco Palms property on that path,” Carvalho said.

“It’s important to remember that any redevelopment of the property will involve Planning Commission and building permit processes,” he added. “So to comment or speculate on the possibilities beyond that wouldn’t be appropriate at this time.”

Patrick Duddy, of Relax Hotels and Spas and Maxum Construction of Hawai‘i LLC, has been behind the scenes of Coco Palms development for years.

He is reportedly working with as-yet-unnamed investors interested in the property.

“This project is a great opportunity and once we get investors to pull the trigger, we can bring back an incredible property for the people of Kaua‘i,” Duddy said. “The mayor of the island is an absolute prince who really wants to see it built.”

Duddy said he is working with various groups to try to bring the project to fruition. There are huge challenges, he said, from incorporating existing entitlements and permits with their vision to move forward.

“It has not happened yet,” Duddy said. “We are in constant communication.”

The resort zoning area is for 16.4 acres, while the 17-acre coconut grove is conservation-zoned land leased from the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

A major issue, Duddy said, is that the property is below the FEMA flood plane and likely could not be insured in its current condition. He said there is a good chance of getting a project started if the groups work through the due diligence process.

“There are lot of hurdles to leap,” Duddy said. “It is not an easy project, to say the least.”

Right now, Duddy said interested parties are closing and putting everything in escrow. They have looked at the property and are working out terms with the people who control the land, he said.

Duddy said he also has a financial interest in seeing the project move forward. He is hopeful that something will happen by the end of the year.

The property belonged to Hawaiian royalty for centuries, and the first hotel in its rich history was opened by Queen Deborah Kapule in the mid-1800s.

William Lindeman bought the property and planted a coconut grove on leased land in 1896. His family ran the lodge until the mid-20th century.

Lyle “Gus” Guslander took over the 24-room Coco Palms Lodge in 1953. He and manager Grace Buscher would eventually marry and see the hotel expand to nearly 400 rooms and cottages by the 1970s.

Guslander owned hotels on other islands and operated a tourism package under the umbrella banner Island Holidays. He continued as vice president of the Hawaiian company AMFAC after it acquired Island Holidays in the early 1980s.

He died in 1984, and Wailua Associates purchased the property in 1985.

His widow continued to run the hotel until 1986. She resided in a nearby Wailua apartment until she died in 2000.

None of several subsequent owners were successful in completing plans to renovate or redevelop the property.

Hurricane ‘Iniki severely damaged the property in 1992 and it fell into disrepair as insurance claim battles went on for years.

The County Planning Commission denied a health and fitness spa project in 2007. The most recent effort to build a condominium, housing and hotel project was abandoned soon after, with another hotel project by the current owner, Phillip Ross and Coco Palms Ventures, said to be derailed by the economic downfall in 2008.

The resort plans lagged and the county granted an extension of permits in 2009 to allow the owners to demolish and construct by 2013. The current permit is to build 200 multi-family dwellings and 48 hotel units, along with rebuilding the Seashell Restaurant, a pedestrian bridge over Kuhio Highway and traffic improvements.

The property remains up for sale with the project not showing any signs of progress.

As Coco Palms lay dormant, other work in the area has drawn protests as burials and artifacts continue to be uncovered during construction digs. There are natural wetlands on the property that parallels the mouth of the Wailua River. It was once the site of many royal dwellings and religious structures.  

The fishpond was man-made and has taken a variety of shapes through the centuries. It was designated in the Hawaii Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Nonprofit groups have fought to protect the property and to require any project to preserve and ensure public to cultural and historic areas.

Friends of Coco Palms, an informal group committed to protecting the history and culture of Coco Palms, began meeting in 2007. The Hawaiian Islands Land Trust serves as fiscal sponsor.

Contemporary concerns also focus on preserving the history of the world-famous resort. The property was a location for several well-known movie scenes and many celebrities were regular guests at the hotel. Thousands of couples were married at the lagoon and honeymooned at the hotel and cottages.

In 2009, arson heavily damaged the retail annex that fronts the highway. The site has more recently become the target of vandals, copper thieves and ornament hunters.

The only allowed activity on the property recently has been the Hawai‘i Movie Tours by Bob Jasper. Each weekday at 2 p.m., for $20 — or free to Kaua‘i residents on Fridays — he offers a tour and storytelling of the safe areas of the movie sites, grove, lagoon and the main lobby with its roof ripped back as a living reminder of the destructive force of Hurricane ‘Iniki.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

© 2015 Thegardenisland.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Manawai posted at 8:25 am on Mon, Sep 3, 2012.

    Manawai Posts: 309

    You’re all wasting your breath here. The County doesn’t have the money to condemn and develop this property and never will. We have far greater needs than spending the millions upon millions to acquire and build out some sort of cultural preserve. And guess what pipe smokers? You can’t just take property without just compensation. That won’t even happen if and when the Kingdom of Hawaii is restored.

    The land alone is so valuable that only high revenue-earning uses like resort use can justify the cost. While it sounds nice to make it all pretty for the people of Kauai, it’s not going to happen. As PeteAntonson said, the 2007 plan was viable and would have brought the property back into visually acceptable and publicly accessible condition. But again, Kauai shoots itself in the foot. This, of course, is great for those in our government that what to distract you from what you should be ranting about and that’s the absurd and unsolved Kapaa-Lihue traffic problem.

  • Regular Guy Giving Just Retorts posted at 11:29 am on Sun, Sep 2, 2012.

    Regular Guy Giving Just Retorts Posts: 941

    The Kahuna going get you... and want union dues too!

    You're going to have to pay to be all scared!

  • Lance62 posted at 4:53 pm on Sat, Sep 1, 2012.

    Lance62 Posts: 0

    Aloha, So here's the deal or should i say issue's? Althought it may be an eyesore, mess, rat infested, below FEMA regulation levels, the real story here is the HISTORY and the Opportunity of (like earlier mentioned) more jobs for the local people of the island. I also agree that it "The Coco Palms" need not return as a timeshare nuff of those already but rebuild, restore use as much of the remaining materials as possible and bring back to life what was once an icon of this beautifulk Island of Kauai. The location is spectacular, the acreage is perfect and the draw of visitors will be unparralled to that of any other resort in the area. All i am saying is lets grow and remember and create not grow , change and upset those that can help.. Mahalo

  • Francine1 posted at 11:35 pm on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    Francine1 Posts: 223

    I hope whoever is purchasing the property is seriously looking to finally do something with it and this doesn't turn in to another, 'Blow Smoke Up The Residents Of Kaua`i's *ss'! This eyesore has sat there for 20 yrs. and I can just imagine what our Visitors must think. Even worst what those Visitors that are frequent return guests must think. Such an embarrassment to our 'Garden Isalnd'.
    Paystatus got it absolutely right!! If a resident were to keep their house/yard/property in that kind of shambles; they would be hit with Fines so fast.....while the dilapidated former Coco Palms sits with no consequences to the current or former owners....
    Double Standards, WHY County of Kaua`i??

  • nate_808 posted at 10:58 pm on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    nate_808 Posts: 24

    There would be a greater benefit for my fellow native Hawaiians to have jobs from a hotel then a cultural center owned and operated by mainlanders... Cultural centers should be owned and operated by my people...it's a slap in our faces to have haoles making money off our culture...

  • commonsense posted at 9:04 am on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    commonsense Posts: 63

    'Pete Antonson'. I came to my estimate of 500 + from the numbers stated in the article 'He and manager Grace Buscher would eventually marry and see the hotel expand to nearly 400 rooms and cottages by the 1970s.' Also, ' The current permit is to build 200 multi-family dwellings and 48 hotel units, along with rebuilding the Seashell Restaurant, a pedestrian bridge over Kuhio Highway and traffic improvements.' Using these numbers and assuming a minimum of 2 occupants per unit, that would be 800 guests from the first example and with 200 multi-family units at an average of just three occupants plus the 48 hotel units gives approximately 700 occupants. So at a 65 - 70% of the first example, that would be approximately 500 + and from the second example that would be approximately 450 +. Obviously, these numbers do not rule each other out. While I realize these are just estimates, it is still a large number of people.

  • kauaitexas posted at 1:28 am on Tue, Aug 28, 2012.

    kauaitexas Posts: 0

    as a 35+ year vistor to Kauai i thing it's time for locals to get togather and back something that could make Coco Palms something other than an eye sore. local jobs and the Gods will be best served with that. keep the government out of everything and it could be something special to honor the people, the island, and the vistors who love Kauai and have spent millions ($) that we have worked hard for. we respect the island and the history of the island and will always back you all, aloha, john.

  • PeteAntonson posted at 9:29 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    PeteAntonson Posts: 2360

    In the same post, you use a 500+ people impact figure and a 65-70% occupancy figure at the same time. Besides probably ruling each other out, where in heavan's name does your 500+ figure come from?
    The "Friends of Kauai" have gone nowhere for 5 years. They don't even have administrative operation costs covered. Where is the money coming from to buy a multimillion dollar property, and the demolition funds, and the park creation funds??? Where, where where??? This is why critical thinking beats commonsense everytime!
    As for "How does this sale open the cultural area to the public?" Right now, it is fenced off and off limits and unsightly. If a sale includes a restaurant/hotel as before, you will be able to visit a tended grove, visit, or have a drink or meal alongside the fishponds with a view of the grove, and hopefully, still see landmarks like the chapel, rent the Hall (with it's carved wooden doors), and take in the shows and services of Mr. Rivera. This is very much a part of Kauai History and Culture. The 2007 plan would have given you that as well as perserving the "Elvis King's Cottage" as a museum. That plan, and the spa (to be built on the already developed tennis courts), was shot down by an activist with Coco Palms in her ocean view and a planning commisioner who lives 100' from the driveway entrance to the spa (and all you cheerleaders thought it was a victory for Hawaiians...HA!).
    P A

  • mrb posted at 8:26 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    mrb Posts: 121

    Who ever is responsible for "editing" the comments I wrote in, "Mahalo, for keeping the tenor of the thoughts intact! The bottom line is this: There are choices to be made....values to be considered...sustainability issues to be addressed....cultural traditions to be honored...and serious considerations to be reviewed.
    In the final analysis, it might be best to consider which should be prioritized with respect to the highest and best use of that property: profit? protecting and preserving cultural aspects? creating a healing center?
    What other valued ideas should be considered? Sincerely, MrB

  • DDSPHON posted at 7:42 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    DDSPHON Posts: 3

    Coco Palms was haunted in the 1970s when my grandparent was still working there. They rebuilt it several times and then let it alone. Do you suppose the excitement or allure of the island is with ghost and goblins, rather than city life as in New York or LA or even here in Honolulu? I don't know, but it sure looks that tourism is the big issue yet, instead of union dues.

  • paystatus posted at 5:48 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    paystatus Posts: 131

    thanks for reminding me to call the EPA in California about this eyesore of contamination, rats, seepage and danger; my goal is to have the EPA fine the owner and the county for letting this stand unattended;

    if my home were like this, it would have been shut down or fined by the county years ago;

  • commonsense posted at 5:14 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    commonsense Posts: 63

    nate_808, you make a valid point. There would still be traffic regardless of what is built there, however with a cultural center or something of that nature, it would directly and positively benefit both residents and visitors while providing more of the local culture and flavor that many people are wanting to preserve and foster. Lose the Polynesian/Hawaiian culture and what have you got? As for the jobs, the number of jobs one development provides over another one is not the point and should not be the primary reason to approve one over another.

    It may sound unreasonable or unrealistic to support a development such as a cultural or nature center to some, but in the big picture, things get changed or done because of peoples input and discussion. In the end, just ask the question, what do I hope for this island to be in the near future and beyond, something unique like it is now or something like any other place on the mainland. Please remember, this is just my opinion.

  • Yakauai posted at 5:13 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    Yakauai Posts: 294

    the concept of "jobs at any cost" is a dangerous road to travel. kinda like the GMO provides jobs for kauai west side. what are the negitive effects of such jobs? GMO jobs are spraying poisons and chasing birds out of fields.

  • Yakauai posted at 5:10 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    Yakauai Posts: 294

    seems like a cultural center would nourish the population and tourists as well. the jobs some are saying would be more important than culture are subservient and minimum wage type jobs. is kauai more interested in cleaning rooms and being servants to tourist than enriching its culture? i would hope not.

  • nate_808 posted at 1:40 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    nate_808 Posts: 24

    And you don't see a cultural center creating the same type of traffic, there would probably be more traffic with all tourist coming from the different hotels across the island. And the cultural center won't creat as much jobs.

  • commonsense posted at 12:46 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    commonsense Posts: 63

    I am in full support of the ideas discussing some sort of cultural center, or nature preserve/park, open space with restoration of the fishponds and establishing an area where visitors and residents can learn more about the area, its' cultural importance and how some of the past can be incorporated into teaching for the future.

    As many people have mentioned and discussed through this forum and in local homes, restaurants, beaches, in song, etc., Kaua'i is a small, very special island that needs to be respected and protected. I have worked in the visitor industry here for many years and one common thread about the majority of visitors is that they, as well as we residents, appreciate what Kaua'i is and what it isn't. While I was not born and raised here, I know a good thing and I appreciate this island and its' good people on a daily basis.

    Sorry, I went a little off subject there, but this is just one issue that is very sensitive and can have a major impact on lots of people.

  • commonsense posted at 12:28 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    commonsense Posts: 63

    While I am not sure about the true numbers, I sincerely believe that the majority of Kaua'i residents would prefer that Coco Palms not be rebuilt as a resort or anything resembling a visitor accommodation facility, especially eastside residents. Yes, there would be some jobs created, but it goes much beyond that. This area cannot handle the type of traffic and daily impact of 500 + more people and cars. If you drive through Wailua/Kapaa now, just imagine more of the same on a greater scale.

    In my opinion, anyone in position of approving new developments should first consider the whole impact on full-time residents and how it affects our day-to-day lives (traffic, commute times, crowds, etc.) and the general quality of life. How can more developments be approved when on average our existing resorts and visitor accommodations probably average about 65% - 70% throughout the year, give or take a few points.

    continued next post.....

  • nate_808 posted at 11:44 am on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    nate_808 Posts: 24

    Because it would bring well needed JOBS to the people of our island, perhaps you don't need a job but a lot of our LOCAL residents need jobs... SO yes please rebuild it as a hotel, not as Timeshare!!!

  • RonC posted at 10:53 am on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    RonC Posts: 0

    your right, alot of people have many conflicting ideas regarding Coco Palms resort, Land, etc. Even through I like to see a resolution benefit the greater of good, but what it really boils down to is who has the money to make changes.............and most times it not someone here from the Islands.

  • mrb posted at 9:14 am on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    mrb Posts: 121

    There may be too many conflicting ideas about the ways in which the Coco Palms site should be in the future! Have the following considerations been brought to the table: Restoring it to what it was---originally, as a place of cultural, historical significance! Or, let it become a cultural center as envisioned by those who have varied concepts in mind. Perhaps, their ideas could be combined. Or, let it become a landscaped area of exquisitely infinite beauty as a coconut-tree-laden-paradise-by the sea! Just be sure to remove the coconuts before they fall on someone's head. Or, maybe by converting it to a healing space, Or, perhaps, by providing a place of tranquility along a corridor of traffic-snarls and in the midst of over-development by having it become a first-class resort---again!
    These are just thoughts! Whatever decisions are reached, just remember: "The land is chief. We are but stewards of the land." And, in the final analysis: Malama aina. That's the main thing!!

  • Yakauai posted at 7:42 am on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    Yakauai Posts: 294

    “This project is a great opportunity and once we get investors to pull the trigger, we can bring back an incredible property for the people of Kaua‘i,” Duddy said. “The mayor of the island is an absolute prince who really wants to see it built.”

    uhh, how would that bring it back to the people? sounds more like for the tourists that come to kauai. DESIGNATE COCO PALMS A CULTRAL HERITAGE SITE!

  • Yakauai posted at 7:37 am on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    Yakauai Posts: 294

    give it to phil at "Na keiki o ka ina" (the children of the land) he will treat the space with respect and bring back the culture while teaching it to our kids. much better than some new hotel that us as residents will not go to.

  • drsurf posted at 7:17 am on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    drsurf Posts: 24

    The mess of Coco Palms should have been dealt with years ago by the County. Waiting for developer after developer with extension after extension with pipe dreams of bringing back Coco Palms while we have to drive past the wreckage every day has been a joke.Now they are going to have to deal with the incoming water level which will be at it's door step in no time. So glad the Path was not laid down at that beach.


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