By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
Mayor Mufi Hannemann, in one of his first acts in office, suspended repair work at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium yesterday.
The move signals a major shift in the city’s policy on the memorial built to honor Hawai’i soldiers killed in World War I. During 10 years in office that ended Sunday, former Mayor Jeremy Harris succeeded in restoring the Natatorium’s facade and bleachers but was stymied in attempts to fix its deteriorating pool.
Tim Steinberger, acting director for the Department of Design and Construction, yesterday sent a two-paragraph letter to contractor Healy Tibbits Builders stating, “You are directed to suspend all activities and expenditures for this project until further notice.”
Hannemann could not be reached late yesterday but was expected to comment on the issue today, a spokesman for the mayor said.
Last month, Hannemann promised to halt the emergency repair work initiated by Harris. He has also said he hopes to remove the pool and deck while preserving at least the major arch of the facade and possibly the restrooms, and favors more recreational space at the site.
Peter Apo, a spokesman for the Friends of the Natatorium and one-time Waikiki development director under Harris, said his group is disappointed but not surprised by Hannemann’s decision to suspend work, particularly since a majority of City Council members have also gone on record opposing full restoration.
“We will do everything we can under the law to stop demolition and (attempts) to create a new use at that site,” Apo said.
The city would not need to discuss demolishing the Natatorium because of its poor conditions if government officials had provided the funding to properly maintain it through the years, Apo said.
The Friends group believes the city cannot demolish the pool without the permission of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Legislature, Apo said. What’s more, it will cost $20 million to establish the groins to save the beaches in the area — more than it would take to restore the pool, he said.
Jim Bickerton, attorney for the Save Kaimana Beach Coalition which has opposed full restoration, said his group was pleased by Hannemann’s decision. “We look forward to working with everyone on the next phase which is to make a functional memorial that will expand the beach space available to Honolulu’s public,” he said.
Bickerton said the Harris administration could not provide documents justifying the $20 million estimate for removing the pool and keeping the groins. “We believe Mayor Harris made that up out of whole cloth, it was pure fabrication,” he said.
Bickerton said students at the University of Hawai’i’s College of Engineering recently estimated it would cost “under $3 million” to put a beach at the site of the Natatorium.
He also disagreed that the city would need permission to tear down the pool. “The important thing is to have some form of memorial that Honolulu can afford,” he said.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 525-8070.