Honolulu Star-Advertiser, June 16, 2015
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Historic Preservation officials want a third “alternative” considered before the razing
The city’s plan to tear down the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium is being pushed back more than a year.
Robert Kroning, the city’s director of design and construction, said officials with the State Historic Preservation Division have asked that the city look into inserting into its draft environmental assessment a third possible “alternative” for the future of the long-contested plan.
Studying such an alternative — something in between full restoration and saving only the arches — would take about 16-18 months, pushing back completion of a draft environmental assessment that the city had hoped would have been completed by April, Kroning told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Friday. “An 18-month delay would probably put us toward the end of 2016,” he said.
A final EIS would probably be completed about six months after that, he said.
Kroning emphasized, however, that the Caldwell administration is not wavering from its previously stated preferred position that calls for most of the nearly century-old structure to be torn down and the area turned into a beach. The Beaux Arts-style arches would be saved and moved back from the shoreline under the plan, which is estimate to cost about $18.4 million.
The draft assessment lists, as the only alternative to demolition, full restoration of the pool, bleachers and arches, as has been sought by preservationists.
SHPD officials, however, recently told the city that they “feel pretty strongly that we should be including at least one more alternative that takes into consideration … saving a little bit more of the memorial than what we have in our preferred alternative,” Kroning said.
Debate over what to do about the dilapidated facility has dragged on for nearly four decades. Built in 1927 as a memorial for those who died in World War I, it was a popular pool for many years. But after years of neglect and disrepair, it was shut down for safety reasons in 1979.
The decision to tear down the Natatorium was reached by the city following the recommendation made in 2009 by a task force comprised of various stakeholders.
In May 2013, Caldwell and then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced that the city and state would work cooperatively to raze the pool and bleachers, and leave the area as open space.
“The city is moving forward with the preferred alternative,” Kroning said.
In a statement, the state Architecture Branch did not say outright that it asked for a third alternative. However, the branch said, “We did attend a site visit on May 29, 2015, to assess the condition of the Natatorium and discuss options that may be identified within the EA including restoration, adaptive reuse, and redevelopment of the site.”
Representatives for both the Friends of the Natatorium, which supports full restoration, and the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which wants a beach there, voiced cautious optimism that the latest developments are positive steps in their respective directions.
Mo Radke, president of the Friends, said the delay “gives me hope that the City and County of Honolulu (is) looking at all the alternatives that they should be looking at and not just narrowing it down to just a couple of options.”
He added, ”If they’re looking to do the right thing historically, socially, civically, financially, well, then looking at all the different options is the smart thing to do.”
Rick Bernstein, Kaimana Beach Coalition leader, said he’s being philosophical about the delay. He said he’s been told that including the third alternative is only a precautionary move that would put the city in a better legal position should a tear-down be challenged.
Bernstein said he expects the city will continue on a course toward tearing down the pool and bleachers. To restore it, he said, would require bringing in commercial entities to support such a costly endeavor.