By Nick Grube | 5/7/2013
Angst abounds after last week’s joint announcement from Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell about demolishing the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, highlighting deep rifts that don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
The divide between what the governor and mayor want to do with the historic property and those who detest their plan could also lead to significant delays and political infighting when the time comes to actually raze the swimming pool.
Friends of the Natatorium is a nonprofit that wants to see the World War I memorial restored, and has already threatened lawsuits and other regulatory delay tactics that its members hope will derail the $18.4 million beach expansion plan.
And the nonprofit — which is the main proponent of modernizing the Natatorium and its saltwater swimming pool — isn’t alone in its concern.
Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang is asking his constituents to weigh in on the proposal after learning about it last week.
The Kapiolani Park Preservation Society is also trying to distance itself from the project after one of its prominent members spoke out in support of it at the behest of Abercrombie and Caldwell.
Abercrombie and Caldwell’s proposal includes ripping apart much of the war memorial and turning it into a new beach area adjacent to Kaimana Beach. The archway would be preserved and moved further inland while the swimming pool and stadium seating would be removed.
Current designs also show a new parking lot could be built in the area next to Kaimana Beach that’s now used as a picnic area.
KPPS President Alethea Rebman said her group has not developed an official stance on the project, but, like others, was disturbed that no one reached out to KPPS about the proposal before the announcement.
“It’s very clear the impact on the park is secondary to the city, if it’s even on the city’s radar,” Rebman said Monday. “When you are constructing something new and taking out green grassy area and turning it into a parking lot we have a problem with that.”
Decades of fighting and venomous debate preceded last week’s announcement that the Natatorium will be dismantled. That long history is one reason Chang wants to survey those who live in his district, which includes Waikiki.
“We wanted to make sure that the community understood what the proposals were and we wanted to know what the feedback was in the community,” Chang said. “We think that for any type of proposal that affects as many stakeholders as this does, it’s very important that we hear from everyone.”
So far, he said the feedback has been mixed. Chang, who has announced a run for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s seat in Congressional District 1, wouldn’t say what he would like to see happen to the Natatorium. He says he needs to do more research.
Rising opposition to the proposal means there might be some unanticipated wrangling ahead for Abercrombie and Caldwell as they try to push their idea through.
Both have said they’re committed to completing the project, and that they’re hoping they can get the money it will take from the City Council and the Legislature.
Cost is their biggest ally, they say.
Modernizing the Natatorium has been estimated at $69.4 million while their plan is only $18.4 million.
But if this message from the Friends of the Natatorium website is any indication, they’ll have a fight on their hands.
“There’s plenty left to fight for, and plenty of fight in us,” the message on the home page reads. “Whether it’s in the State Capitol, in Honolulu Hale, in the court of public opinion or in a court of law, remember: This is not over.”