PUHI — The future of the Coco Palms Resort was a deeply discussed topic during the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs Kaua‘i Island Community Meeting on Tuesday night, where attorney Mauna Kea Trask emphasized the developer’s commitment to restoring the site.
“My client has the resources to finish this. 100 percent,” said Trask to OHA trustees and community members at the meeting at Kaua‘i Community College.
The site’s current developer, RP21 Coco Palms LLC, also known as Reef Capital Partners, recently appointed Trask, a fourth-generation Native Hawaiian, to represent them amid increasing contention and uncertainty about the project’s future.
Reef Capital’s Managing Director Patrick Manning previously told The Garden Island that the reconstruction of the approximately 350-room resort would start in September and be completed within three years.
But just weeks later, in April, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a letter asking the developer to stop all work due to evidence showing work being done without proper authorization. “Had that (letter) not happened … those buildings would be coming down,” said Trask during the meeting.
During the meeting, Trask said he has done a lot of research to catch up on the project’s history.
“When this project was initially permitted in 2014, the government and community leaders recommended the developer work with the community to incorporate a strategy that would support the feedback from the Native Hawaiian community on the development,” he said.
According to Trask, that strategy includes a vision of a new Coco Palms Resort making a number of cultural contributions, including building a cultural research center, providing student internship opportunities, supporting local farmers and businesses and restoring the fish pond and wetlands.
The cultural contributions also include keeping and maintaining the coconut grove, taking care of local cultural resources, integrating proper historical place names, treating all workers well, having local housing in the area, and an employee orientation and training program that emphasizes Native Hawaiian history, language and culture.
The resort would be a “funding mechanism to support these kinds of cultural programs,” said Trask, noting that just maintaining coconut groves would be “extremely expensive” for the state and county.
He urged the community, county and state to come together to support the project.
In a council meeting last month, state Board of Land and Natural Resources Chair Dawn Chang stated the department had received numerous complaints of land-use violations by the developer, including failure to maintain the premises, failure to submit annual reports, failure to pay property taxes and cutting down palm trees without consent.
The state is currently conducting an investigation into the claims, after which they could decide to revoke the developer’s three permits for state-owned land covering the property. A representative of the DLNR was unable to immediately answer a question regarding when the department’s land-use violations investigation would be completed.
Community members, including representatives from I Ola Wailuanani, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization made up of Kaua‘i residents, also spoke during the meeting. The group has spent years advocating against the reconstruction of the resort. Instead, they say the site should be purchased and turned into a Hawaiian cultural and education center.
Mason Chock, the organization’s vice president, thanked Trask for representing the current developers.
“I wish they had hired him years ago for this discussion,” said Chock.
The group shared a video detailing some of the site’s rich cultural history and significance, including its time as the royal residence for Kaua‘i’s last queen, Deborah Kapule.
“My point is, we make no claims to the future of this property. We really are here to educate, to share what it is,” said Chock.
“What we represent here is to make sure that the committee does have a voice in the process and that we’re not just subjected to anything that the future might hold.”
OHA trustees Brickwood Galuteria and Kalei Akaka asked Chock how they could collaborate and support his organization.
“Frankly, I’m very saddened by what I saw today,” said Galuteria of the site’s dilapidated structures. “I remember a very vibrant Coco Palms. Now, having said that, I for one would want specificity in terms of what comes next.”
Galuteria added that he didn’t want to be having the same conversation another year from now.
Chock said they needed to allow for government process, as the community’s role is currently limited.
“Right now, that’s a hotel. So until it’s not a hotel, our role is marginal … so I think those discussions need to be happening with the current owners,” he said.
Trask repeated similar statements, highlighting Reef Capital Partner’s dedication to the project, in an email response to The Garden Island on Wednesday.
“Reef Capital is deeply committed to completing the restoration of Coco Palms while balancing the needs and concerns of the community. After 30 years of failure by previous owners, we recognize that some may be skeptical, but we are the first owner with the financial strength and commitment to finally follow through on the restoration of this important landmark,” he said.
“We believe the majority of the community supports starting the demolition of the remains of the Coco Palms as soon as possible.”
Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or
Source: The Garden Island