Natatorium restoration clears court hurdle

Honolulu Advertiser
Dingeman Robbie
Advertiser Final

A state judge yesterday cleared the way for renovation to begin next week on the land work associated with the restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

Judge Gary W.B. Chang denied a request to halt all work on the controversial project, ruling that “the evidence is insufficient to show that applicants are about to commence any restoration construction activity without first obtaining or meeting any of the government requirements or approvals normally required for such activity.”

Mayor Jeremy Harris praised the ruling and said construction will begin Monday on restoration of the arch, facade and restrooms. Harris has been frustrated that full restoration – especially of the saltwater pool – has been stymied by public opposition and court challenges.

“We’re told we can’t tear down the Natatorium, and then we were told we can’t fix up the Natatorium,” Harris said. He described the ruling as a “very reasonable decision of the court to break this ultimate Catch-22.”

Harris said construction work on the pool remains stalled as the city waits for the state Health Department to develop saltwater pool standards, a process expected to take months. He said it still makes sense to delete the pool and ocean work from this contract rather than pay the contractor to wait out the new rules.

C. Bruce Smith, a board member of the Friends of the Natatorium, praised the court decision and saluted Harris and the City Council for continuing its support for the project.

Attorney Jim Bickerton, who represents the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which has opposed the restoration, said it is uncertain whether Chang’s decision will be appealed.

“We think Jeremy Harris will regret the day that the judge allowed him to proceed to build what will become known as Jeremy’s folly: 2,500 bleachers looking out over nothing,” Bickerton said from Oregon, where he is on vacation.

Rick Bernstein, chief opponent of the pool, said he doubts the pool will ever be built. “It’s a victory for the Kaimana Beach Coalition in that we’ve blocked construction of the pool.”

Harris still hopes to someday restore the pool. “It all depends on being able to fund it.”

Harris said the $10.8 million restoration contract already awarded will no longer cover the cost of restoring the pool, because of the legal delays. Harris said the city is negotiating how much the restoration will cost without the pool.

Council opponents remain skeptical of the project. Council member Donna Mercado Kim said “now that the court has ruled, it is up to the council to determine whether additional funding is necessary, since the mayor under oath has stated that the current appropriation is not enough to complete the entire restoration.”

Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura added: “Given the public opposition, given the lack of money and the uncertainty over saltwater pool rules, we need to re-evaluate full restoration. I don’t think it’s going to happen.