Kauaʻi community group tries to buy Coco Palms from Utah owners planning 350-room hotel: Kauai Now

The current Utah-based owners of the former Coco Palms resort in Wailuā plan to build a new 350-room hotel on the site that once hosted A-list celebrities and the film production of Elvis’ musical Presley in 1961, “Blue Hawai’i”.

But many in the local community are fed up with outside mainland developers who don’t deliver and don’t appreciate the sanctity of the land.

“If (the developers) felt close to what our community thinks about property, they would have done something a long time ago,” said former state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser. “But it’s been sitting like a pile of garbage for 30 years.”

Hooser is a member of the Kaua’i community group, I Ola Wailuanui, which launched a fundraising campaign to purchase the abandoned resort that has lain in ruins since Hurricane Iniki destroyed it in 1992.

Last week, I Ola Wailuanui raised $200,000 in pledged donations, a fraction of what it will need, but a start.

This effort is the latest example of opposition to the construction plans of the current developer. Last month, news outlets reported that hundreds of community members had testified against the hotel project in Coco Palms at meetings of the county planning commission and the State Land and Resources Board. natural. And nearly 14,000 people have signed an online petition against the construction of hotels.


If I Ola Wailuanui was able to acquire Coco Palms, his plan is to demolish what remains of the old complex and build a Hawaiian cultural and educational center.

“This property is incredibly important to history and culture,” Hooser said. “It is literally the birthplace of Hawaiian royalty.”

The significance of the old station goes far beyond Old Hollywood glamour. It is home to ancient heiau (temples), loko i’a (fish ponds) and iwi kupuna (ancestral remains).

Author Edward Joesting, in his classic story “Kaua’i: The Separate Kingdom,” wrote:

“It had been chosen as the capital by the kings and was home to the great chiefs of Kaua’i. Along with Waialua, on O’ahu, it was considered one of the two most sacred areas of all the islands.


Members of I Ola Wailuanui include local lawyers, historians, cultural practitioners, community organizers and politicians, including county council member Mason Chock, who grew up near Coco Palms Resort in the 1970s. At that time, Chock’s father was the hotel’s executive chef, and he remembers the resort as his childhood garden and playground.

However, Chock does not want another hotel to occupy this sacred space. Like Hooser, he cites decades of failed reconstruction attempts and the region’s well-established cultural and historical significance.

Chock also said another hotel was not needed on an island already saturated with tourism: “The general plan (2018 of Kauai) indicated that we were overcapacity. The Executive Director of the Visitors Bureau says we are over capacity.

“When we’re sitting in traffic right down this hallway, when we recognize that this thing is falling apart before our eyes and it’s not being respected at all… What we really should be doing is rethinking how it can serve us better.”

Coco Palms, originally built in the 1950s, was last sold at auction in July 2021 for $22 million to sole bidder Stillwater Equity Partners. I Ola Wailuanui uses this figure to estimate the funds needed to acquire the property from its current owners, an undisclosed group of Utah-based buyers called RP21 Coco Palms LLC, who have publicly signaled their willingness to receive offers.


An estimated total price of $53.4 million or less would be required to acquire, demolish, plan, restore and manage the land as a cultural and educational center, according to I Ola Wailuanui representatives.

Suggested aspects of the proposed center include agricultural restoration and local food production, a museum, a musical amphitheater, a hula mound and a canoe hedge.

With $200,000 already pledged by small donors, I Ola Wailuanui’s acting executive director, Fern Anuenue Holland, now hopes to pitch the group’s projects to potential wealthy donors.

“We’re really looking for those big lead donors: people who could give $1 million to $5 million to be a lead donor and show that we have that clout behind us,” said Holland, who is currently running for county council.

Hooser, Chock and Holland agree that’s a tall order. Yet they believe it can be done.

“It sounds like a dream to a lot of people: ‘How are we going to create this and find all this money?’ And it’s true, it’s the biggest investment project I think most of us have ever worked on,” Holland said. “But we really think the site would be much better served as a place of cultural enrichment, agricultural restoration and connection for the people of Hawaii.

“When there is such a strong desire to return what is arguably one of the most important Hawaiian cultural sites on any island to the people of Hawaii in a way that serves an entire community…I think people who have ability will come to the table when they see how amazing this vision is.

James C. Tibbs