Decades after Iniki, iconic Coco Palms is one step closer to being reborn

Original Article: Hawaii News Now -

 The Coco Palms Hui LLC believes it's on the doorstep of re-building and re-opening the Coco Palms Resort.  The once iconic landmark has been sitting idle since damage from Hurricane Iniki forced it to close a quarter century ago.

Developer Tyler Greene hopes to have it open by the end of 2020.

"For all those Coco Palms fans out there, don't give up! We're here. We're charging. We're going to get there," he said.

The latest delay, a court fight over ownership of the property was settled by a judge in July.

But the process slowed the work for a year and a half.

"It was actually September 10 we got a letter from our title company saying that they're back on board and ready to go," Greene said.

Greene said his company is working with Kauai County to obtain the necessary permits.

"We need to do some coordination there in terms of organizing our building plans and so on and so forth. We're working on that right now," he said.

The old Coco Palms was damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Since then it's been in disrepair.

Coco Palms Hui's plans have gone further than any other effort to rebuild the once iconic hotel.

The project is forecast to cost $140 million. It will utilize a lot of the property's existing infrastructure.

"We'll use the old steel and concrete structures. Steel, we've done structural reports on those. That's still solid. But everything else will be brand new and up to today's standards," Greene said.

The new Coco Palms will have over 12,000 square feet of retail space,  restaurants, leisure areas and a cultural center.

"So it will be a 350-key hotel and resort property, I guess you could say garden style in that it will be three stories up and nice quintessential Kauai experience," Greene said.

The Coco Palms is widely known for its lagoon made popular in an Elvis movie.

"We will bring back the Elvis wedding in the lagoon," Greene said. "That's an integral part of the property."

The next key date will be September 25 when Greene meets with the Kauai County Planning Commission.

Chloe Rapozo
Developers: Coco Palms Project Back on Track

Original Article: The Garden Isle -

Developer Tyler Greene said Wednesday that with legal disputes behind them, the project to rebuild the Coco Palms Resort is moving forward with an estimated completion date of late next year.

“The question is, ‘what’s going on,’ and when media and certain things get picked up, oftentimes our message doesn’t get conveyed the way that we anticipated it getting conveyed,” he told the planning committee.

There are, however, still some issues to work through.

The Coco Palms development is now under contested case proceedings with the county. Deputy Planning Director Ka‘aina Hull said the department determined the project’s developers were in violation of permitting conditions.

According to documents, the majority of the violations appear to be due to time constraints with permits.

Coco Palms Hui LLC is scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission on the permit violations on Sept. 25.

Greene said the issues with a group of Native Hawaiian activists who began occupying a piece of the property in February 2017 and claimed ownership through ancestral rights led to delays.

Though they attempted to work with the occupiers to resolve the issue, they ended up in a lengthy legal battle over the land.

“We tried to sit with them and work through and understand their goals and their agenda and what they were hoping to accomplish, but we saw early on it would be best to let the court process run itself through” Greene said.

In that situation, Greene said they wanted to avoid conflict.

“My heart goes out and I sympathize deeply with those folks because they’re upset,” he said. “They’re looking for certain things and not sure where to go to find those certain things.”

So they filed a district court case and a circuit court case for a writ of possession to get them off of the property, and were successful. But the circuit court case dealing with quiet title took longer.

“When they filed that in circuit court that meant we were stuck and that meant that they jammed us up,” Greene said.

When their title was questioned during the quiet title proceedings, they knew it was going to be a long process.

“Nonetheless, we stayed the course in the spirit of Coco Palms,” Greene said. “The spirit of Coco Palms has been and will always be to unite people and we knew when we were in that court, we had to do everything we could to try and stay true to that vision and true to that spirit and so we did everything we could do to not make it contentious,” he said.

Greene said the appeal for the circuit court case was dropped Aug. 22.

“That meant that now the runway is clear and by getting that court case and that appeal dropped, that meant we could go back to our title company and ask them to provide title insurance,” he said.

With title insurance in hand, they are able to move forward with their project, Greene said.

He said Coco Palms Hui LLC received an email Sept. 10 from their title insurance company stating they would provide them with title insurance.

The partners that came on with them in the beginning of the project are still backing Coco Palms Hui LLC, Greene said.

“In the last three weeks we’ve made tremendous strides and actually currently are very excited and very enthusiastic because again, now the runway’s clear,” he said.

Barring anymore unforeseen issues, Greene said they are on track to open the hotel by the end of next year.

Once complete, the $145 million project is slated to boast 350 guest rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.

Here is a look at money spent to date by the Coco Palms developers:

• $110,000, Oct. 15, 2017, aid in historic preservation mission of Wailua/Waipouli area including creation of educational programs and signage; aid in efforts including moku and ahupuaa signage of the Wailua area; for construction of a new bus stop along Kuhio Highway;

• $93,750, June 30, provide an in lieu payment for the cost of a dedicated turn lane on Haleilio Road;

• $499,202 paid in property taxes;

w $244,000 for permits and fees;

• Total contribution to county since closing May 2016: $946,952;

• $4 milion spent in demo and cleanup of buildings;

• $139,950 for a dust fence;

• About $100,000 in general cleanup.

Chloe Rapozo
Kauai Hotels Do Well in First Half of 2018

Original Article: The Garden Isle -

Kauai’s hotels led the state in growth of revenue per available room (RevPAR) for the first six months of 2018 ($233, plus 15.2 percent), boosted by increases in average daily room rate (ADR) to $295 (plus 12 percent) and occupancy of 79.2 percent (plus 2.2 percentage points).

Kauai hotels also earned the state’s highest county RevPAR growth in June, increasing to $228 (plus 11.6 percent), which was supported by an ADR of $294 (plus 10.1 percent) and occupancy of 77.4 percent (plus 1 percentage point).

Hawaii hotels statewide recorded the highest RevPAR and ADR of the top U.S. markets in the first six months of 2018, according to the Hawaii Hotel Performance Report released this week by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Year-to-date, RevPAR in the Hawaiian Islands grew to $229 (plus 7.9 percent), ADR rose to $280 (plus 6.0 percent) and occupancy increased to 81.7 percent (plus 1.4 percentage points) in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year.

The strong, across-the-board performance raised the Hawaiian Islands’ RevPAR to $229 and earned a No. 1 nationwide ranking when compared to other top U.S. markets for the first half of 2018.

Hawaii ranked second nationally for occupancy at 81.7 percent, trailing New York City at 85.2 percent and being on par with Orlando.

“For Hawaii to earn the No. 1 ranking in the U.S. in both RevPAR and ADR as the market is rising nationally is a significant achievement for the state,” said Jennifer Chun, HTA tourism research director. “Most U.S. markets reported RevPAR growth in the first half of 2018. Very few markets were down compared to a year ago.”

Chloe Rapozo
Larry Rivera Back Performing Weddings at Coco Palms

Original Article: Larry Rivera back performing weddings, renewals at Coco Palms

As the double-hulled canoe glides over the lagoon at Coco Palms on a sunny Thursday morning, Larry Rivera stands, sings and plays his ukelele. First, he performs the Hawaiian Wedding Song.

Then, one that he wrote, “Beautiful Coco Palms.”

This song, you can tell, he loves.

“Beautiful Coco Palms, shining in the sun.

Beautiful Coco Palms, where my heart belongs.

Beautiful Coco Palms, it’s so heavenly.

Beautiful Coco Palms, where I want to be.”

When he finishes, Rivera smiles, and remembers.

In those moments, the 87-year-old Rivera is transported back in time, when he was a young man at Coco Palms about 60 years ago. He performed for crowds in the hundreds and was, he says, even joined on stage by Elvis Presley, who sang background vocals for him.

“People say, ‘You knew Elvis?’ I say, ‘Elvis knew me. Elvis sang with me,’” Rivera said laughing.

On this day, Rivera is filled with joy. He wants to talk story. And he has lots of stories to tell about Coco Palms, perhaps Kauai’s most famous piece of property. It’s the iconic resort owned by Grace Guslander and where, in its glory days, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra stayed and a famous movie scene was filmed.

Rivera worked there for more than six decades. He was a dishwater, bellhop, waiter, bus boy, bartender, front desk clerk and lounge entertainer.

Later, he operated Blue Hawaii Weddings and Renewal Vows on the lagoon — the same place where the wedding scene in the Elvis movie, “Blue Hawaii” was shot in 1961.

With two paddlers powering the vessel, Rivera has led hundreds of couples in commiting to each other.

While it’s been several years since the certified minister sang and guided couples in exchanging words of love on the lagoon, but he’s back.

With the launch and blessing of the restored canoe and its platform on Thursday before a small gathering of friends and family, Rivera is once again singing and marrying couples at Coco Palms, where he says he belongs.

“You can feel the culture, the aloha spirit,” he said.

His nephew, Paul Rivera, earlier this year patched and painted the canoes, about 15 feet long and weighing about 125 pounds each, attached by the platform.

“I decided to help uncle get it back together, Paul Rivera said.

“I feel proud of myself. I’m glad it floats,” he said shortly after returning from being one of the paddlers on the brown canoe with yellow trim on its maiden voyage.

Rivera nodded in agreement.

“Paul did a remarkable job of restoring the canoe to its beauty with countless hours of labor,” he said.

Paul Rivera recently returned to Kauai after living in Beaver Creek, Ore., where he built houses. He was happy to do what he could for his Uncle Larry. Growing up, Paul Rivera said he played and worked with him.

“I have good memories here,” he said.

After Hurricane Iniki in 1992, Rivera picked up the pieces of the canoe and put it together.

“Nobody wanted it,” he said.

His wife Gloria decorated it with flowers and they used it for Blue Hawaii weddings and vows, based on the movie.

“We’ve been doing weddings forever, until the place was closed,” he said.

Over the years, the canoe fell into disrepair again and sank in the lagoon. But it was retrieved and restored.

Tyson Hawelu, a second paddler for the canoe Thursday, works in maintenance for the Coco Palms Hui, which is planning to develop the site that has sat shuttered for nearly 26 years since it was damaged by Iniki.

“Uncle Larry is such a legend, such a nice guy,” Hawelu said. “Anyway I can help him out, it’s a good day.”

Tyler Greene, a partner of Coco Palms Hui, joined Rivera on the canoe’s first trip out on the still-scenic and even spellbinding lagoon, singing along with him for a short stretch..

“When I look at Uncle Larry, there’s one thing that comes to mind,” he said. “And what we saw here today with this intimate gathering, if there’s one person in the world who embodies the heart and soul of Coco Palms, it’s Uncle Larry. I think it’s apparent today, just the feelings that exist here.”

It was Grace Guslander who pioneered Coco Palms and brought it to life, Greene said.

“But I think Uncle Larry really needs to be credited for driving that forward into the future and maintaining it,” he said.

During a brief celebration with cider and cookies after the voyage, Rivera talked story about how he taught Bing Crosby to sing at Coco Palms.

“He paid me $100,” Rivera said.

He said Elvis was in the crowd one time listening to him sing at Coco Palms.

“When I finished the song, he would stand up and go, ‘Yeah yeah, yeah.’ He wanted to buy one of my songs and offered me $500, but I didn’t know how to copyright or sell a song, so we got together and became good friends,” Larry said.

Everyone at Coco Palms, he said, was part of a special family. Many friendship and relationships were formed there that lasted lifetimes.

It’s why the man known as Mr. Coco Palms is happy to be back, again, ready to perform Blue Hawaii weddings and vow renewals.

Rivera still performs regularly at the Coconut MarketPlace, Garden Island Grille in Koloa and Cafe Portofino. He is a man of great energy, passion and enthusiasm.

“I love to sing,” he said. “I love to see people smile.”

Greene said he’s pleased to have Larry singing and performing weddings again at Coco Palms.

“It’s no secret that Coco Palms has had it challenges, but this is just one more testament how important this property is to the folks here on Kauai and for me it’s one more testament that Coco Palms is in the process of being reborn. Despite our delays and despite the things we have had to overcome, it’s just one more step in the journey,” he said.

“So I just want to thank Uncle Larry for everything he’s done. Not just today, not just since I’ve known here, but for the last 50 years and how he’s poured his heart and soul into this wonderful place and he’s made it into what it is today and what it will be when it opens.”

Chloe Rapozo
Kapaa No. 1 travel destination as rated by TripAdvisor

Original Article: The Garden Isle -

Shave ice, seaside bicycles and trendy shopping all await on Royal Coconut Coast, in a town dotted with taco joints, surf shops and toes-in-the-sand dining.

Locals and tourists mingle in Kapaa, which boasts two hostels and multiple hotels, as well as robust residential areas with local businesses slinging their wares.

Home of the historic Coco Palms Resort, the area has long been a favorite for many traveling to the Hawaiian Islands, but recently Kapaa took top honors among trending United States travel destinations.

Dubbed No. 1 by TripAdvisor, one of the world’s top travel websites, Kapaa was followed by Waco, Texas; Wilmington, N.C.; Bend, Oregon; Boulder, Colorado; Paso Robles, California; Richmond, Virginia.; Greenville, S.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; and Lexington, Kentucky.

“There’s a lot going on here on the Royal Coconut Coast,” said Hilmy Dole, president of the Royal Coconut Coast Association. “We’re seeing strong interest in Kapaa’s culture, attractions, lodging, food and activities by both our visitors and our kamaaina (locals). We’re all striving for excellence as we continue to upgrade and provide new experiences. “

The town’s unique placement halfway between Kauai’s North and South Shores is another draw for tourists and locals alike, according to Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, but that’s just one of many factors.

“The improvements on the Royal Coconut Coast by the resorts, restaurants and the renovated Coconut Marketplace shopping center have lifted up the east side of the island,” Kanoho said.

Island Country Markets at the Coconut MarketPlace opened in early 2018, boasting free Hawaiian entertainment in tropical settings with shopping, farmers’ markets and occasional free movie nights on the last Saturday of every month.

The Saimin Dojo is another new addition to the Royal Coconut Coast, and it brings Hawaii’s unique noodle soup to the table alongside traditional plate lunches and BBQ dishes.

The soup dish, inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit, is unique to Hawaii and comes from the state’s plantation era.

A daytime walk down the plumeria scented streets of downtown Kapaa reveals shops like Bamboo Works — which sells clothing, flooring, furniture and decorations all made from bamboo — as well as other merchants selling sea glass jewelry and breezy beach styles.

For those looking for outside dining, food trucks congregate on the way to Kealia Beach, where people can grab from an ever-changing lineup of fare — though Thai food and wraps are staples.

The Kauai Path, formally named Ke Ala Hele Makalae (The Path that Goes by the Coast), crosses behind the food trucks and follows the coast from Lydgate Beach to Kuna Bay (Donkey Beach).

Breaching whales, crashing surf and salty sea air are all in store for those who wander down the multi-use path, and it’s a favorite for both tourists and locals.

Still under construction, the path will ultimately be 17 miles in length. About eight miles of it have been completed, and many people rent or ride their own bikes along the path for entertainment and exercise.

Live music seeps from places like Paniolo Grill and The Local as soon as the sun sets, and on the first Saturday of every month, a street party takes over the town with vendors selling handmade crafts, art and food.

Murals of Hawaii’s people and landscapes decorate walls and businesses, like the mermaids that keep watch over Mermaid’s Café and Java Kai coffee house from a nearby alley.

Kids play soccer in the fields fronting the ocean, scented blossoms grow among monarchs at Orchid Alley, and people gather for brunch or wine at Art Café Hemmingway — open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again for dinner from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

With multiple hiking trails within a 20-minute drive, the Coconut Coast has a little something for everyone, which lends to Kapaa’s trendy blend of hometown feel and a traveler’s paradise.

Chloe Rapozo
Coco Palms Construction Update - June 2017

"A place of history, founded on true aloha. Coco Palms is a place with a bright future"

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As of today, the next chapter of Coco Palms is on track for an exciting future. From the original 24 hospitality rooms that were available in 1953, to the growth and limelight the resort received from the movie "Blue Hawaii", to the experiences that so many remember, Coco Palms is officially closer to re-opening than ever before since closing its doors. 

Watch the video below to see some of the construction process so far.

Some of the progress captured in the video so far is the removal of forgone materials, weathered by time since Coco Palms closure in 1992. Many residents of Kauai and previous guests know of the history Coco Palms had since hurricane Iniki, with the exchanging of ownership to the unknowing future of the hotel. Fortunately, those questions can be answered. In the last six months, the Coco Palms Resort has had more progress than ever before. At this time the removal of old materials is nearly complete, with the integral and original structure and footprint of Coco Palms, 350 rooms will be renovated and given new life. You can learn more about Coco Palms history and its partnership for the future here.

So far the grounds have been cleared, pathways re-claimed from overgrowth, rooms cleared out, by the fast working construction team. With a clear vision on Coco Palms future and a great respect to its honored past, Coco Palms is quickly moving to the remembered greatness it once held as a place of experience and aloha.

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At this time all buildings in Coco Palms except the last remaining Shell Building are completed and ready for vertical construction. What makes the next stage of renovation so exciting and fast paced is that Coco Palms main structures have stood the test of time, with only surface damage to its rooms interiors and walls. 

What this means is a fast paced renovation process as Coco Palms as the rooms are rebuilt, new infrastructure created, kitchens being re-built, and a beautiful rendition to the legendary Coco Palms lobby, all on the same and original footprint of Coco Palms.

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With the help of many, from people like Bob Jasper who ran Coco Palms tours and over saw its safe keeping for so many years, to legendary Coco Palms musician Larry Rivera serenading couples with his music as well as ordaining weddings, to the support of so many past guests, the story of Coco Palms has stayed true and alive. 

There have been many, many questions of Coco Palms future, especially upon the start of the renovation process 6 months ago. Ranging from how many rooms, will Coco Palms have the same spirit, to is it finally happening? 

Coco Palms is in fact well on its way to its bright future. Not only for previous and future guests upon re-opening, but also for the community of Kauai. From the opening of new restaurants on property and the re-opening of the beach side Seashell Restaurant, to historic and culturally reflective sites on property to learn about Hawaii's culture, its history, and Coco Palms history within in that, Coco Palms is well on the way to its doors opening again.  

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We look forward to the completion of this stage of construction and the upcoming start of vertical restoration and construction for Coco Palms and the continued support from its ohana. You can stay tuned by following here on the Coco Palms news outlet, on social media like Facebook and Instagram, or by signing up for the Coco Palms newsletter. 


Chloe Rapozo
Kauai Wedding Tips

1. Lighting is everything. Do not book a shoot mid-day, because the lighting is directly above and can often be harsh.

2. Color is key. Making sure there are contrasting colors to make the white wedding gown pop, or to make sure the black tux doesn't get lost is important.

3. Location, location, location. Whether you're shooting on the beach or in the Coconut Grove of Coco Palms Resort, the location helps to tell a story. Selecting what kind of image you want to portray is important when capturing this memory.

4. Love lives. Being in the moment with your significant other is important. Sometimes you have to forget there is a camera, and get lost in each other.

5. Golden rule. One tip many videographers forget about is that exterior noise can affect your wedding video. Requesting that guests turn off their phones or electronics (ipads, etc.) can control exterior noise caught on tape during a ceremony or speech.

Chloe Rapozo
Discover Coco Palms

Join us on a visual journey of the new Coco Palms Resort on the island of Kauai. Slated to open summer of 2018 as part of the Unbound Collection of Hyatt Hotels. Coco Palms by Hyatt will offer approximately 280 standard hotel rooms and 70 junior and master suites. The iconic property which sits on 46 acres will also offer a cultural center, Hawaii's largest protected coconut grove and agricultural land.

Chloe Rapozo
Environmentally Conscious Renovations
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The extensive coconut grove is a place of serenity and is often described as sacred. During the renovation of the Coco Palms Resort, the construction team has taken extra caution in preserving and maintaining the legendary trees.

In addition to the commitment for a sustainable and low impact hotel, the Coco Palms Resort will also provide the community with an on-site Cultural Center. Hotel guests and community members will be encouraged to participate in cultural activities such as coconut weaving, hula, and talk story sessions.

Want to support our efforts in building the cultural center? Click here.

Chloe Rapozo