New suit filed to halt Natatorium restoration

Honolulu Advertiser
Kobayashi Ken
Staff
Advertiser Final

By Ken Kobayashi, ADVERTISER COURTS WRITER

A group opposing the proposed restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium returned to court yesterday to challenge Mayor Jeremy Harris’ decision this week to proceed with construction that doesn’t involve the facility’s saltwater pool.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition filed a new lawsuit citing Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani’s decision Monday that the pool is under the Department of Health’s jurisdiction and needs a permit.

The group also contends that the city must first obtain additional permits before beginning work on any phase of the $11 million project.

It asked for a court order halting any construction.

After the judge’s ruling, Harris announced that construction work on the facade, bleachers and restrooms would begin. He said he would wait for the Health Department’s new rules for saltwater pools before deciding if the swimming area would be restored.

But coalition attorney James Bickerton yesterday questioned why the city would want to proceed before obtaining the permits. “Why do we need bleachers if we don’t have a pool?” he said.

“We believe the bleachers are what Mayor Harris really wants because they will pave the way for the commercial use for the Natatorium, which is his long-term goal,” he said.

The construction was to begin this month.

Harris was not available for comment yesterday, but city Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said his office will oppose the coalition’s request.

Arakawa said the administration is “really puzzled” by the latest challenge because the coalition itself never opposed the restoration of the arch or restrooms, which would be open to the public in the surrounding areas, including Kaimana Beach.

“It’s pretty apparent they just don’t want the Natatorium restored,” he said.

Arakawa said he’s never heard the mayor say that his long-term goal is to commercialize the facility. “To me, it’s getting a little tiring that every time we make a reasonable move, they come up with a new motive,” he said.

The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans but shut down in 1979 for safety reasons. The city Council last year approved by a 6-3 vote a special management permit paving the way for the project.

The coalition has said it favors the restoration of the arch and bathrooms, but wants the bleachers and ocean wall eliminated to make way for a one-acre beach.