Capital shelling out millions for spruce-up of Waikiki

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HONOLULU -- The city of Honolulu is in the midst of several major projects in Waikiki.

Because of construction, getting around Waikiki in a rental car will be a little slower for a few months. And visitors to Kuhio Beach must contend with construction areas to get to the sand.

Gov. Ben Cayetano is proposing to convert the Ala Wai golf course, in Hawaii, into a public park. However, the ongoing projects all are designed to improve life in Waikiki and provide a more scenic setting for tourists and residents.

"To revitalize our visitor industry and our economy, we've got to revitalize Waikiki," said Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris in a recent State of the City speech.

"And over the next 12 months, that's exactly what the city is going to do."

The largest and most visible project in terms of construction equipment, inconvenience to tourists and landscape change is the Kuhio Beach project.

Kuhio is the centerpiece of Waikiki and the only spot along the shore that has no hotels on it. Harris said the beach will be transformed into a "park in the middle of Waikiki with lawns, terraces, flowers and palm trees."

The project is under way and is expected to be finished in May, at a cost of $11.5 million. It includes a new police substation, a food and drinks concession stand, new rest rooms and a wider sidewalk.

"We are calling the sidewalk a 'grand pedestrian promenade.'

"It's wider and grander than a sidewalk," said Gerry Silva, an information officer for the city of Honolulu.

Silva said there also will be a public plaza for outdoor cultural events such as hula demonstrations, as well as new bike racks and beach showers.

After the construction is finished, the Kuhio Beach park will be expanded by 43,550 square feet, said Silva.

The increased size of the park will come from eliminating one lane of Kalakaua Avenue, the one-way street that passes by the beach.

Harris said that along this stretch of beach, "an underground sound system will entertain people with Hawaiian music as they stroll along the beach. People will be surrounded by hula, music and cultural events."

In his State of the City speech, Harris revealed plans to clean up the Ala Wai Canal, which runs the length of Waikiki opposite the beach.

"In August, the state will begin dredging the canal, and we are working to create a promenade that reflects Hawaiian charm so visitors and residents can stroll or cycle along a beautiful waterway," Harris said.

"Later in the year, you'll also see improvements made at the zoo."

The city is spending $7.8 million on new homes for the Komodo dragons, gharials (reptiles similar in appearance to alligators or crocodiles) and elephants at the Honolulu Zoo in Kapiolani Park.

Some of the zoo work is expected to be completed by this summer and the remainder by 2002.

The crumbling Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, also in Kapiolani Park, near the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, is getting a $4 million renovation of its exterior.

The natatorium is a saltwater swimming pool with bleachers and an elaborate facade that was built as a WWII memorial.

The $4 million project involving the facade, bleachers and rest rooms is scheduled to be finished by the end of February. Restoration of the pool, which has been closed for years, is not currently scheduled.

"Basically, we're just waiting for the state to finish up its [health and safety] rules for saltwater pools," said Silva.

"This pool has been around for more than 50 years, and there've never been any saltwater pool rules."

Also in Kapiolani Park, the Kapiolani Bandstand, where some small-scale musical events were held, was torn down, and a new one is under construction.

Like other ongoing projects in Waikiki and in Kapiolani Park, the former bandstand site has a fence around it, and the area is pretty well torn up.

But when it's finished in May, "we'll have something more fitting to the monarchy era, something you would see in Europe in the late 1800s," said Silva.

The new bandstand will cost $3 million.

In addition, the city cut down 46 diseased ironwood trees along the Kapiolani Park section of Kalakaua Avenue and will plant 100 more, said Silva.

Gov. Ben Cayetano also wants to transform the Ala Wai public golf course into a public park.

Cayetano said he first wants to find land to replace the golf course and then convince the public and the legislature that the conversion is a good idea.

There is no time schedule for this project.

Other projects in the works include the following:

  • New Kapiola-ni Park security lights, at a cost of $900,000.
  • Historic trail markers beginning on the convention center side of Waikiki and continuing through to the other side to Kapiolani Park, with five to be installed this year and four next year at a cost of $210,000.
  • New decorative streetlights along Kalakaua Avenue.
  • The $500,000 first phase of the project has already been completed.

    The second phase, at a cost of $3.5 million, will be finished in June.

    The same project on Ala Wai Boulevard was completed at a cost of $847,000.

  • New landscaping and renovated walkways on both sides of the Ala Wai canal.
  • The cost of this project is not available.

    Some projects already completed are the following:

  • Four miniparks and shelters along Kuhio Avenue, at a cost of $700,000.
  • Six security cameras along Kalakaua Avenue, at a cost of $128,000.
  • "This is a good-size program for Waikiki," said Silva.

    "The idea is that we will invest in the infrastructure and private industry will follow with its own improvements."

    In addition, Silva said, Waikiki businesses are being given a "seven-year tax holiday" on capital improvements that increase property value.

    "If you've got a hotel valued at $90 million and you fix it up and the value goes up to $100 million, we [will] not tax you on the added $10 million in value for seven years," said Silva.

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