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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 5, 2001

Ko Olina moves into new phase of growth

 •  Ko Olina timeline
 •  Ongoing or planned developments at Ko Olina

By James Gonser
Advertiser Leeward Bureau

KO OLINA — When developer Herbert Horita broke ground for a $3 billion world-class, self-contained resort/residential community at West Beach almost 15 years ago, he was widely criticized for not considering the social and economic impact on Wai'anae Coast residents.

Kamaki Kanahele, a Nanakuli community leader, says Ko Olina's leadership has become more inclusive.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Horita is long gone, and the property, now known as Ko Olina Resort, has changed hands and management teams several times. Before leaving, Horita and his partners completed the Ihilani hotel, a golf course and some condos, but development at the project stalled in the early 1990s with the decline of Japanese investment in Hawai'i.

Today, several new projects are under way or have been announced in what has been called a "mini-boom" at the resort, giving new life to the development and spurring economic growth.

Hundreds of Wai'anae Coast residents work at the hotel and resort, and relations have improved dramatically between the developers and the community. But some residents still feel the resort has not done enough to provide access to beachgoers and fishermen or employment to residents from the economically deprived coast.

"Not much local people can go out there," said Nanakuli resident Patty Teruya. "There is so much restrictions. I don't feel comfortable there. The beach is not accessible for us ... It is not part of the community."

Teruya, who worked at the Makaha Resort Hotel as food and beverage director for 14 years before it closed in 1995, said she and many other experienced people applied for work at the Ihilani at the time, but few were hired. The lucky ones who got jobs were placed in minimum-wage positions, she said.

"It looks good when they say they are going to bring in jobs, but in reality, they don't hire that much from the Leeward Coast," Teruya said. "They didn't keep their promise."

Making progress

The 640-acre Ko Olina Resort, off the H-1 Freeway just past Honokai Hale, includes residences, an 18-hole golf course at Ko Olina Golf Club, a Hawaiian cultural center at Paradise Cove and a 270-slip marina. Four manmade lagoons line the pristine stretch of the Leeward Coast, providing safe swimming for resort guests and the public.

Ko Olina Partners LLC purchased 344 acres of the largely undeveloped resort from West Beach Estates in 1998. Since then, the company, alone or with other partners, bought the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa hotel and golf course and attracted other developers who are building homes and vacation units on the property.

Marriott took over management of the 387-room hotel and the golf club in 1999 from a Japan Airlines subsidiary. That led to a change in hiring practices, and today, of the 798 hotel employees, 50 percent live on the Wai'anae Coast, according to Ihilani marketing director John Limper.

Kamaki Kanahele, president of the Nanakuli Homestead Homeowners Community Association, said the relationship between the previous owners and the community was very negative, but that has improved recently.

"The past Japanese owners never really welcomed the community or made an effort to connect with us and get advice from us," Kanahele said. "When you counted the number of people employed from this side of the island, you could count on one hand. It was terrible."

Kanahele said when Marriott took over the hotel, its representatives met with community leaders and have become very inclusive.

"They made promises that they will seek out employment for our people on this side of the island," he said. "This is the first group that has really opened their doors to us for any spiritual, cultural advice."

Kanahele said a Hawaiian cultural center is being planned in Nanakuli and he hopes as the resort grows and more tourists visit the area, economic benefits will be shared with the community.

Dolores Foley, a University of Hawai'i professor in urban and regional planning, said the two groups can help each other, with the resort providing jobs and training and the community providing the true cultural experience that tourists crave.

"I think they can get along," Foley said. "It requires a sensitivity and working with the community to utilize and support the cultural resources. In some ways, the Ihilani has been trying to do that with the internship program to train local high school students to work in the hotel."

Wai'anae resident Roger Nakamine is finishing his internship at the hotel this summer. He has worked in security and in the human resources department. He also manages the newer interns.

"The internship has taught me responsibility that I would never have gotten otherwise and given me a chance to work in a five-diamond resort," Nakamine said.

Nakamine, a Wai'anae High School graduate who plans to attend UH-Manoa in the fall, said the program is helpful for area teens.

"Wai'anae has always had a bad reputation, and this is a chance to prove to the community that they have a lot to offer," he said. "Through the internship, they make a lot of connections and find opportunities to work."

Points of contention

But Ko Olina's public boat ramp and lagoons have led to conflict.

The 270-slip, $40 million marina opened in March last year. The public boat ramp, a requirement for development permits, opened in July after an agreement was reached between the developer, the city and Leeward fishermen to ease rules regarding the ramp.

The boat ramp is used primarily by fishermen who keep their boats on trailers rather than in a marina. After negotiations with fishermen, the developer agreed to drop its requirement that each boat owner carry liability insurance and decided not to charge a $25 administrative fee to use the ramp.

But the ramp, unlike other public ramps that are open 24 hours a day, is only open from sunrise to sunset, a restriction that keeps many fishermen away, according to Wai'anae fisherman William Aila.

"Initially, they came in and totally disregarded Wai'anae fishermen," Aila said. "Since having several meetings with them, they have come to understand the needs of the fishermen out here, and the working relationship is better. It is not 100 percent yet, but it is better."

Residents also say access to the resort's lagoons has been a major point of contention.

In 1996, several environmental groups occupied a closed lagoon beach, saying the developer was illegally keeping the public away. The lagoon was subsequently opened, but Ko Olina's rules for public use of the four lagoons at this resort area have drawn protests.

Those rules prohibit normal-size beach umbrellas, distracting music or noise, tents, tables, sunshades, windbreaks, playing ball, open fires and smoking on the beach. If the parking lots are full, residents are turned away at the resort's security gate entrance. The company's position is that the lagoons, which all have public bathhouses with showers, are privately owned and maintained and the owner is responsible for public safety.

The 1986 agreement for the resort's conditional zoning says public use of the shoreline "shall be equal to that of hotel guests and, at a minimum, shall include sunbathing, picnicking, swimming and walking, except where not permitted for safety purposes. ... Four public access ways with not less than 20 parking stalls each will be provided."

When Ko Olina Partners took over the resort area, daily lifeguard service for each lagoon was canceled and replaced by roving security called the Aloha Team.

Aloha Team member Yolanda Burke said there have been problems when local people don't understand the rules. "Once they know, it's OK," said Burke, a Wai'anae resident. "This is a quality resort and good for the community. A lot of people work here and have the opportunity to have jobs close to home."

Ko Olina partner Jeff Stone said much has changed since the days of Horita. "When you look back 10 years ago and see some of the mistakes made with the community, it is a learning process," Stone said. "We have stepped in and really listened (to community leaders). We really lean on them for ideas and recommendations on what is the best way to address issues like access. ... We try and be everything that a neighbor should be."

• • •

Ko Olina timeline

• 1986: Local developer Herbert Horita and partner Kumagai Gumi Co., a Japanese construction company, begin work on a planned $3 billion world-class resort and residential community. Original plans include 11 hotels, 5,000 residential units, two golf courses and luxury condos.

• 1990: Campbell Estate breaks ground for its 890-acre city of Kapolei.

• 1993: The $104 million, 387-room Ihilani Hotel is completed.

• 1995: Makaha Resort hotel closes and 175 employees are laid off. A crew of 75 is kept to run the golf club, which Sheraton quits managing in January 1999.

• 1998: Ko Olina Partners LLC, a partnership of local investors headed by Jeff Stone, and Ohio-based National Housing Corp., acquire much of the West Beach resort.

• 1999: Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance becomes the new joint owner of the Ihilani Hotel Resort & Spa with Ko Olina Co. LLC. The hotel and adjacent golf course were sold by a Japan Airlines Co. subsidiary.

• 1999: Marriott International Inc. takes over management of the 387-room JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina.

• 2000: Ko Olina's 270-slip, $40 million marina opens along with the fourth and final beach lagoon.