More than 20 years after severe damage from Hurricane Iniki closed the Coco Palms Resort on Kauai, preliminary work is under way to restore the property to its former grandeur.
Coco Palms Hui, a group of Hawaii-based investors, has signed a contract to purchase the hotel, and although the deal is still in escrow, the developers received a demolition permit this month and have a team now working at the site, cleaning up the property and installing construction fencing.
“It’s our hope to bring the Coco Palms Resort back to its original glory,” Tyler Greene, a partner with Bridge Real Estate, told Travel Weekly.
Greene’s company is just one of several investors across the state making up Coco Palms Hui, and he said he’s hopeful they’ll clear escrow on the hotel in a couple of months.
“We hope to have our building permits in the next two months, as well,” he added. “We anticipate starting construction in the first quarter of 2014, and we think that construction will most likely take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.”
Green said the developers’ preliminary plan for the property is to restore about 350 guestrooms, creating a collection of standard rooms, junior suites and master suites along with renovating the stand-alone bungalows behind the hotel facing the property’s lagoon.
First opened in 1953 with just 24 rooms, the Coco Palms Resort hosted a range of Hollywood celebrities in its heyday and famously served as the backdrop for the 1961 Elvis Presley film “Blue Hawaii.” It also appeared in the musical “South Pacific” and the TV series “Fantasy Island.”
Even in its shuttered state following Iniki’s devastation in 1992, the hotel has drawn visitors willing to pay for a tour of the damaged property and get a good look at the bungalow where Elvis stayed or stand in the famous lagoon location of the “Blue Hawaii” wedding scene. That spot remains a popular wedding venue for couples today.
“We want to do something in honor of Elvis,” Greene said. “We’re not quite sure if it will be in that bungalow, where he stayed, or if it’s going to be more like a mini Elvis museum, but there’s definitely going to be an Elvis component of the resort.”
Hawaiian culture will also be a key element, according to Greene, as the property sits on a location important to Kauai’s ancient Alii, or royals, fronting Kuhio Highway and a sandy beach.
Tentatively projecting Coco Palms will reopen in late 2015 or early 2016, Greene said it was too early to put a dollar amount on the renovation project, but he expects the refurbished property will appeal to both Hawaii residents and visitors from around the globe, including “younger, 30-something travelers to younger families and even all the way up to the golden-age Elvis fans.”
He also said the investment group’s plan for the hotel has, for the most part, been well received by the Kauai community, which has endured a wide variety of failed proposals for the Coco Palms site over the past two decades.
“Our plan really differs from the other false starts, because we just want to bring Coco Palms back to its original shape and form,” Greene explained. “We don’t want to sell timeshares. We don’t want it to be a condo property. We want to keep it as a hotel property.”