LIHUE — Just when it appeared that Coco Palms would never be rebuilt, there seems to be new hope for the iconic Wailua Beach resort.
“A new, Hawaii-based group of investors has stepped up and is willing to restore the property to its former glory,” states an online petition launched by the Save Coco Palms Committee Wednesday.
The committee is asking for support to stop a draft ordinance approved by the Kauai Planning Commission Tuesday. The proposal is now headed for first reading at the Kauai County Council.
Within a few hours of being launched, dozens had already signed on the petition, and many wrote brief accounts of their experience at Coco Palms.
Coco Palms was the only major hotel that never reopened after Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992. Following Iniki, the council approved expediting permits and fee exemptions to help rebuild the island.
Ordinance 716, passed in 1997, put an end to those exemptions but retained a provision that allows for the restoration of a nonconforming building or structure to its pre-Iniki condition.
In June, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. sent a letter to the commission asking for assistance to repeal the ordinance. He said it is his “firm belief” it is no longer necessary.
“If this ordinance is repealed, the planning and building process will be so difficult that it will make it economically unfeasible to rebuild the property,” the petition states. “It will be the swan song for the resort we all love.”
A Korean-based group bought the hotel in the 1980s and operated it until Iniki hit Kauai in 1992. Thirteen years later, after settling with the insurance company, the Koreans sold the property to Coco Palms Ventures, which in turn is owned by Petrie Ross Ventures, a developer of large malls on the Mainland.
In January, Coco Palms Ventures’ permits to rebuild the property expired, after eight years of trying to find the right investors.
Meanwhile, the property that once led the state in what a Hawaiian hotel should be, became a monumental eyesore on Kauai’s busiest corridor. Following Iniki, the decaying structures suffered further from a fire, mold, water damage, graffiti, vandalism and theft.
When the state Legislature wrapped up in May, the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust was approved for a $276,650 grant-in-aid to start a community-based process to ultimately fundraise some $20 million to acquire the property for the public benefit. Gov. Neil Abercrombie later said publicly he would release the money to the land trust.
The petition hinted to the land trust’s efforts, stating that there is a “very small but vocal” minority that would like to see the entire property as a park.
Without elaborating further, the petition states “the buyer is actively processing the preparation of the building permits for the renovation.”
It is unclear, however, if the property has already gone through escrow.
“With your help, we can all accomplish the process of restoring Coco Palms into something new and beautiful that we can all be proud of,” the petition states.
On Tuesday, architect Ron Agor asked the commission to consider grandfathering the exemption requests approved before and in case the draft ordinance eventually becomes law.
Sitting in the back of the room where the commission’s meeting was being held, an older man watched the discussion unfold. He had walked into the room almost unnoticeable and remained quiet.
The man was Larry Rivera, an icon himself, who built an extensive musical career after starting as a busboy at one of Coco Palms’ many restaurants. To this day, Rivera performs at weddings on the property.
Visit www.ipetitions.com/petition/savecocopalms/signatures for more information.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org