There remains unending controversy and upset about a final resolution to the much loved but long-troubled Coco Palms Resort on Kauai. Where the rich and famous once played and made famous by Blue Hawaii and Elvis Presley, the 20-acre property, plus 15 acres of leased land, sit in complete and utter shambles as seen below. And so it has been for almost exactly 30 years since Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai in September 1992.
Today the Kauai Planning Commission held a meeting to discuss the annual updates required on multiple permits that date back to 2015. Despite widespread opposition to redevelopment, the latest owners appear to be moving forward with some plans to create another hotel at the Coco Palms location. And yet years, even decades go by with no substantive changes in what we see. That appears to fly in the face of the County’s requirement that permits be acted on timely. And it raises the question of whether there is some subterfuge involved somewhere.
The new owner was announced during today’s meeting as Coco Palms 2021.
The new Utah-based company was first revealed at the meeting, according to the developer’s representative in attendance. We find no website associated with that name. The developer said his company is Reef Capital Partners. The representative’s testimony was somewhat bizarre. He indicated this was his first-time visit to Kauai, and that the developer has to date held no community meetings to address the myriad of valid concerns about any hotel development. Further he said plans call for all buildings to be taken down to the ground. He said that would happen in the next six months, but that the building foundations below would be preserved as is. That struck us and others at the hearing as implausible.
A change in plans for the future of Coco Palms was not to be the subject of today’s meeting. But…
A plethora of erroneous media reports over the past few days incorrectly portrayed the meeting as being decisive in the future of Coco Palms. The real purpose of the meeting, however, was to receive and potentially approve the annual reporting required from the developer related to the open permits that date back to 2015. The commission chair announced that today’s intention was to review the “Coco Palms status report agenda item.”
Testimony at the 4-hour Planning Commission meeting was wild and emotionally charged. It was uniformly not in favor of any future hotel development.
A Native Hawaiian raised the issue of the ownership of the land. Other Hawaiian representatives spoke at the hearing to protest the possibility of any future hotel development.
Gary Hooser, a former council member, and environmental activist testified against approval of the report from the current developers. He stated that the current permits have lapsed and are no longer valid. Hooser suggested that should the developers wish to proceed, they should be required to start the application process and environmental impact survey anew. He asserted that the County of Kauai acted illegally in multiple ways.
A Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club representative said that today they have filed to have the permits terminated because they have not had any substantive progress in the past two years as required. The representative said that deadlines on permits from 2015 are not being enforced and just annual reports for another 30 years with Coco Palms in ruins isn’t acceptable.
Roger Netzer, a retired ENT physician of 50 years who lives nearby testified. He said that the prior beach is gone, the traffic is terrible, and flooding has become an issue. “It is totally impractical to build another hotel there… I’m shocked that there is a developer who thinks they can make it work.”
Much testimony was received against the development, some of which didn’t address the issues on the agenda. Instead, the meeting, widely attended on Zoom and in person, served to air long-held bad feelings about Coco Palms.
Council candidate Fern Holland testified that the location is so culturally and historically significant that it cannot be allowed to become another hotel development.
A former Coco Palms employee also spoke about the developers “desecrating a sacred spot.” While other testimony asked for the County to consider the highest good for all in its decision about Coco Palms’ future.
Council member and Beat of Hawaii editors’ friend Felicia Cowden testified that the developer had previously indicated that too many things were working against a future hotel development. “Watching how much there is profound cultural roots in that property — there were 86 bodies found symmetrically buried on the ground.” She indicated that testimony related to the excavation was never addressed. “Don’t yet again break hearts, upset people.”
Council member Mason Chock testified as well. When the permits were issued in 2015, “we were under the assumption that we would have a hotel or be moving in another direction. We were fooled and many of the leaders at the time thought it would move forward.”
Just what happened at today’s meeting.
1. The purpose of the meeting and the testimony were seemingly largely at odds. However, the testimony spoke to the bigger issue of dealing with these 2015 permits.
2. There were many requests to defer receipt or approval of the developers’ annual report in light of a plethora of facts. The goal of many who testified is at a minimum to require developers to obtain new permits, given that years have lapsed with no progress on the existing ones. That would be a big outcome of today’s meeting if it were to happen.
3. One of the last to speak was the new developer’s representative, Parker Enlow. His company financed the original acquisition and demolition of the structures. He claimed that a significant amount of work has taken place in the past two years and foreclosure actually took place and the title changed in May 2022. Enlow indicated they (the developers) have been working with a new buyer in the past year and a half. Four “well-funded investors” are taking part in the development plan currently. He indicated there “was some opposition,” which simply could not be more of an understatement. When asked about the status of the buildings’ decay, he said that all buildings will be taken down to the foundation, all building elements will be removed and the hotel rebuilt. They hope to take undertake the building teardown within six months.
The buyers are based in Utah, but the representative declined to provide their names. Parker said that undercapitalization was the cause of the failed efforts previously. He didn’t address other concerns expressed in any meaningful detail. When asked about overwhelming community disapproval, to our ears, he stumbled and couldn’t really address the situation. He did say that if the hotel doesn’t come to fruition for whatever reasons, he too is in favor of a cultural center.
Enlow also mentioned that “vagrants have been living on the property” and that the developers have just obtained eviction notices. In conclusion, he added that “we are within weeks of getting building permits.” When asked if he had been meeting with community groups opposed to the hotel, he again waffled. There have to our knowledge been no community meetings, and Parker said that this was his first time ever on Kauai.
4. The local architect on the project, Ron Agor, then also spoke on behalf of the developers. “We are committed to it being both a hotel and a cultural center… We are going to bring [Coco Palms] back and make it better than before… We will be inviting people, we want to do a presentation this fall.”
5. The planning commission concluded after nearly three hours by voting to go into a private executive session, wherein the public could no longer participate or witness the process. While understandable for legal reasons, it was nonetheless personally disappointing.
Note: If there is a further update we will publish it here when the commission returns to public view or provides any additional clarification. We welcome your input.
Following the private executive session, the commission returned briefly to public view. One of the commissioners indicated that the Planning Commission had specifically approved the extension of the two-year limits on the Coco Palms permits. Our question, of course, is why.
The developer was asked about potential flooding issues in future property development. He said, oddly, “I don’t want anyone to think we are just building huts.”
As a final matter, the commission said that “The 2022 report was received by the commission, and no further action is required on the report.” Other concerns are still being considered.
The plan for a new hotel is going strong from the developer’s perspective.
That comes in spite of all rationale and overwhelming opposition to going in that direction, including the pragmatic, non-oceanfront, heavily trafficked location that has changed so much. In addition, the site has tremendous significance in recent and ancient history and culture, which seems to call for something different from another Kauai hotel. In that regard, restoring the site to something other than a hotel, that can be enjoyed by all for now and in the future was mentioned by a community-based group working on a plan to restore the site.
Read the definitive Coco Palms article, which has more than 400 comments.
What condition is the resort in today?
It is more ugly than ever, with the decay appearing ever-worse and the rebar breaking through the concrete. It is an eyesore like no other on Kauai. And still, nothing has changed to any degree. There is no fence around the property. There is widespread graffiti and no sign of any work. We did a recent drive by, as seen below.
The foreclosure auction last year yielded no obvious changes.
Coco Palms was sold “as-is” at a scheduled foreclosure auction in July 2021. Here’s our understanding of that strange transaction. The $22,000,000 sale to Private Capital Group (PCG) was in the form of a credit on the original principal value of a loan by the prior owner/developer. It turns out that PCG was the prior lender. The owners defaulted on that debt. So in some sense, the owner may never have changed. The prior plan to rebuild Coco Palms as a 350-room resort dates back to 2015 and then changed hands again to the current group in 2019 due to prior mortgage default.
Is a cultural park still a possibility? Yes, it is.
The county and countless community organizations have expressed interest in the property becoming a cultural park. The developer indicated he believes it could be both a hotel and a cultural park, but wasn’t able to address most concerns expressed by the committee and those in attendance.
Love of Coco Palms.
This post-series has now been read more than a quarter-million times, which is a good indication of your love of and fascination with Coco Palms. We, too, enjoy reading your hundreds of comments depicting fond memories of Coco Palms and ongoing dreams for its future.