Harris to testify for Natatorium

Honolulu Advertiser
Dingeman Robbie
Staff
Advertiser Final

Judge rules mayor must answer questions

By Robbie Dingeman, ADVERTISER CITY HALL WRITER

Mayor Jeremy Harris will take the stand in state court next week to answer questions about his plans to restore the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

Circuit Judge Gary W.B. Chang yesterday ordered Harris to testify, granting a request by the Kaimana Beach Coalition, a group that opposes Harris’ restoration plans. City attorneys had fought the effort to have Harris testify.

However, Chang decided against having City Council members Duke Bainum, John DeSoto, Steve Holmes, Rene Mansho, Andy Mirikitani and Jon Yoshimura subpoenaed to testify.

Kaimana lawyer Jim Bickerton is asking the court to order a halt to all work on the project, even though Harris has announced that the city has scaled back renovation plans. For now, the city wants to renovate the memorial arch, facade and restrooms, but not restore the saltwater pool.

Bickerton argued that Harris’ testimony is necessary to determine what his plans are, because Harris has expressed differing positions.

Bickerton said Harris told reporters he was canceling the pool portion of the project, but then city attorneys filed court papers indicating the city wants to begin the land-based portion of the project and “postpone construction of the pool until new salt water pool regulations are enacted and adequate funding by the City Council can be secured.”

Bickerton noted that the city’s permit for the project calls for a new application if there is a major change in its scope. “Don’t start half a project and build what we are calling a half-a-torium.”

City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said Harris is traveling in the South Pacific, but intends to testify on Tuesday.

Bickerton also argued that Harris has intended to use the Natatorium project for commercial shows. Arakawa said that two years ago the city ruled out nighttime entertainment at the Natatorium. He said the city eliminated lights for the project because of concerns of nearby residents about commercial use of the property.

Bickerton said the city approached Polynesian Cultural Center officials in 1997 about the idea of staging four shows a week at the waterfront war memorial.

Dave Cole, vice president of marketing for Polynesian Cultural Center, said in an interview that he spoke with city officials in 1997 about the idea of having a Polynesian show at the Natatorium, with an admission charge that would support the restoration. Cole said he rejected the idea.

Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim testified yesterday that city officials assured the Council that the idea of commercial shows was abandoned.

The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to veterans of World War I, but the waterfront complex was closed in 1979 as unsafe. Politicians have been debating the fate of the dilapidated monument for decades.

Randall Fujiki, city director of the Department of Design and Construction, testified that the city had determined not to go forward with pool renovations after it was apparent that court delays would drive up construction costs.

The state Health Department is in the process of drawing up regulations for salt-water pools. “We were not going to pursue the water work until we got the pool standards for salt water,” Fujiki said.