Natatorium plan downscaled to facade, restrooms
By Robbie Dingeman, ADVERTISER CAPITOL BUREAU
Mayor Jeremy Harris and the City Council backed away from the full reconstruction of the saltwater pool at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium yesterday, and now hope to press forward with restoration of the arch, facade and restrooms.
Harris and Councilmen Duke Bainum and Andy Mirikitani announced that they have agreed to hold off rebuilding the pool. Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura and members John DeSoto and Rene Mansho have announced their opposition to total renovation.
“We will be immediately canceling the swimming pool portion of the Natatorium contract and any of the ocean-water construction activity,” Harris said. “We will move ahead under our shoreline management permit with only the land-based improvements.”
The mayor, Mirikitani and Bainum, who represents Waikiki, said delays caused by opponents’ lawsuits have increased the cost of a total renovation, although they could not provide specifics.
About $10.8 million remains from the $11.5 million appropriated for the project.
Because the Natatorium is on the state and federal historic register, “we’ve been told repeatedly that it’s impossible to demolish the pool,” Harris said.
“Our community needs to move forward,” said Bainum.
He also said that in its present condition, the Natatorium poses a health risk and sullies the memory of the veterans it was meant to honor.
“We think this is a good compromise,” Bainum said.
Councilman Steve Holmes criticized the compromise, stating it failed to resolve what to do with the pool and neighboring beach.
Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, a leading opponent of Natatorium restoration, rejected the compromise.
“It doesn’t have a solution for the pool,” Bernstein said. “It doesn’t have a solution for opening it to the ocean here. There are basically no solutions here. This is just a knee-jerk reaction to our lawsuit.”
Harris acknowledged that the compromise does not end the possibility of the pool’s being restored. “It doesn’t end the possibility in the future.” But it does say the city is not going forward now.
Councilman John Henry Felix, a longtime supporter of the renovation, attacked the decision as “abandonment and destruction of a place of sacred remembrance to those who offered up their very lives on the altar of freedom and democracy.”
The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a living memorial to veterans of World War I, but the waterfront structure was shut down in 1979 as unsafe. What to do with the crumbling eyesore has been debated for decades.
Councilman Mufi Hannemann said the new Harris plan doesn’t go far enough. He said the city should submit a new permit as well as begin the process of restoring the beachfront.
“This is just a face-saving measure on his part to take the political pressure off,” Hannemann said.
A court hearing on whether the city can begin renovations has been postponed from today until July 23.
Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani was scheduled to hear the request by the Kaimana Beach Coalition that she extend her construction ban until the city obtains all government approvals. But lawyers for the coalition and the city agreed to reschedule the hearing to give both sides more time to prepare for the case, coalition attorney James Bickerton said yesterday.
Under the mayor’s new plan for the Natatorium, the memorial arch and wall facing inland will be restored, But the saltwater pool, to right, isn’t part of the plan.
RICHARD AMBO – The Honolulu Advertiser
HARRIS: To press ahead with limited restorations