Mayor testifies legal delays led him to scale back Natatorium project
By Robbie Dingeman, ADVERTISER CITY HALL WRITER
Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris testified in state court yesterday that his goal is to restore the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium saltwater pool even though he has ordered work on the pool canceled. Early this month, Harris said he was canceling the part of the contract relating to the pool while moving forward with the renovation of the memorial arch, facade and rest-rooms.
The Kaimana Beach Coalition has gone to Circuit Court seeking an injunction to halt city work on the decaying waterfront structure. Circuit Judge Gary W.B. Chang last week ordered Harris to testify, granting a request by the coalition, which wants the Natatorium arch restored but not the pool.
“Our goal is to build the whole project,” Harris said in court yesterday. “I can’t build the pool portion now because your lawsuit has caused delays that have risen the cost, so we’re going to hold off on any construction of the pool.”
Chang said he expects to hear more from both the city and the coalition today and rule within a week.
Harris testified yesterday that the city is waiting for the Health Department to create rules for saltwater pools and will then attempt to get a permit. “For the pool to be constructed, we’re going to have to get alternative funding,” he said. “That money may come from the City Council, it may also come from a variety of other sources” such as the federal government, nonprofit organizations or veterans groups.
“The pool is the war memorial,” Harris insisted. “We’re not allowed to tear it down,” he said, because the pool is on the state and federal historic registers. “We are canceling that portion of the contract. By canceling that portion of the contract, we are postponing the pool.”
The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans. It was closed in 1979 after it was determined to be unsafe.
Kaimana Beach Coalition attorney Jim Bickerton asked Harris if he intends to pursue nighttime commercial tourist shows at the Natatorium. Harris said that had been considered and rejected two years ago. “We are not going to propose or approve commercial shows at the Natatorium.”
Harris said he had appointed a committee to help select a nonprofit organization to run and maintain the Natatorium after restoration is complete.
The courtroom atmosphere was tense yesterday while Harris was on the stand. But the mood lightened when Harris asked for a drink of water and Bickerton quickly moved to get him one.
Harris thanked him, and Bickerton quipped: “I didn’t get this from the Natatorium.”
Harris told Bickerton that he had a bad cold and said, “I hope I don’t give it to you.” City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa shot back with a smile: “I do.”
After the mayor testified, both Harris and Bickerton said they believed they had made their points.
Harris said he set the record straight. Coalition members “basically are doing everything they can to make sure that they preserve their own little private beach,” he said. “They’re trying to stop us now from fixing the restrooms and the facade to honor the veterans and provide restroom facilities for the public.
“I think it’s appalling. It’s an outrage,” Harris said.
But Bickerton said he proved that Harris is moving forward with building a pool without knowing if it will ever meet standards as a public swimming pool.
“He has no idea at this point if he can ever build that pool. There are no other public saltwater pools in the United States,” Bickerton said.
Harris said he could not yet estimate the cost of the delays caused by the lawsuit, although he said one estimate he was given was up to $20,000 a month.
HARRIS: Called the effort to stop restoration of the pool “appalling” and “an outrage”
Mayor Harris told the court yesterday that the Natatorium’s pool cannot be torn down because it is on state and federal historic registers.
Photo courtesy KITV-4