Tsunami-damaged Kona Village Resort to reopen in 2019

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A Kona Village Resort bungalow before the 2011 tsunami.
A Kona Village Resort bungalow before the 2011 tsunami.
The real-estate management arm of Kamehameha Schools and California-based developer Kennedy Wilson have finalized terms of a land-lease agreement for the Kona Village Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii, clearing the way for work to begin on a major renovation at the property.  


Although complete details of the transaction were not released, on Thursday officials indicated Kennedy Wilson plans to move forward soon with improvements to the 82-acre resort on the Big Island's west coast. The overhaul will include both restoration and enhancement of the resort's 125 individual hales, or bungalows, as well as a major retrofit of its infrastructure, such as the property's water and sewer systems.

The Kona Village Resort has been closed since 2011, following flooding and debris-related damage resulting from the same tsunami that devastated the Northeastern coast of Japan in March of that year.

In the summer of 2012, a management executive overseeing the property at the time told me the tsunami did more than $20 million in damage to the resort while another $15 million to $20 million would likely need to be spent on bringing the property's out-of-date infrastructure, including water, sewer, electrical and gas, up to code requirements. 

Kennedy Wilson hopes to wrap up the renovation work and have the resort fully operational by summer 2019.

"Kennedy Wilson is humbled to become the next steward of the iconic Kona Village Resort," Dave Eadie, a spokesman for the global real estate investment firm, said in the Aug. 18 statement. "We are well aware of the trust Kamehameha Schools has placed in us  to protect and preserve such a culturally significant resource for the benefit of all Hawaii island residents and the thousands of guests around the globe who consider the Kona Village Resort one of the most special places in all the world."

First opened in 1965, the Kona Village Resort earned a dedicated following of regular return guests, including some big name celebrities, over its 45-plus years of operation, and much of that loyalty stemmed from travelers' genuine enjoyment of the property's rustic, old Hawaii charm. There were no TVs in the individual hales, for example, and no air conditioning. The resort also featured an all-inclusive payment model, covering everything but alcoholic beverages, that many visitors really appreciated.

"Kennedy Wilson is looking to maintain that same original image and style of Kona Village," Aron Dote, a spokesman for Kamehameha Schools, told me over the phone Thursday, adding that full details of the planned renovation and resort amenities weren't yet available.

"It's been such a long time since the resort was open," he said. "There was a whole movement of people concerned when it shut down, and we've been trying to get it open for years. So it's just a wonderful agreement we have with Kennedy Wilson now."
 
A 125-year-old educational trust founded and endowed by the will of Hawaii's Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Kamehameha Schools operates a statewide school system educating about 7,000 students of Hawaiian ancestry and is the largest private landowner in the state, managing more than 365,000 acres on Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai.
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