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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Cultural center adds museum entryway

By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Polynesian Cultural Center is investing $2.8 million in a renovation of the main entry that will transform it into a museum available free to the public and enhance the center's presentation of Polynesian navigation.

The Polynesian Cultural Center's main entry will include displays of artifacts from all cultures featured at the center. A new Rapa Nui exhibit will also be added.

Courtesy Polynesian Cultural Center

The second phase of the three-phase capital-improvement project will turn the entryway into a museum showcasing implements and artifacts from all cultures featured at the center.

Floors will be lined with petroglyph-adorned tiles, and navigation star murals highlighted with fiber optics will decorate the walls. A halau wa'a, or canoe house, will display a koa canoe and the necessary tools for oceanic voyaging. A new exhibit featuring Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, will be added.

The first phase involved the placement of plants indigenous to Polynesia in front of the building, an increase in the number of shade trees and the construction of a community bike path parallel to the highway. It cost more than $1 million and is finished. The second phase is expected to be completed this fall.

"The entire project is designed as a welcome and introduction to Hawai'i and the rest of Polynesia," said Von D. Orgill, president of the Center.

"If people have a better understanding of how Polynesians migrated and navigated ... they would be more interested in spending a day at the center," said Blaine Jacobson, vice president of marketing for Polynesian Cultural Center.

Visitors tend to watch the shows and talk to the native islanders, and rarely explore the migration museum in the back of the center where the artifacts are currently housed, said Jacobson. By moving the museum to the front, center officials hope to lure visitors into staying for the day and learning more.

The third phase will extend ticketing almost to the lagoon, open up the Banyan Tree restaurant and complete the courtyard improvements started in Phase Two. Though the Center has not released money for the third phase, the marketing department hopes to begin by early next year.

Jacobson said center sales have improved steadily since Sept. 11, when they declined 40 percent. "The gap has continued to narrow each month," said Jacobson, who said sales were down in "single digits" early this year. By the end of May, he said the center hopes to reach previous-year levels.

The center, founded in 1963 as a nonprofit organization, has had more than 29 million visitors and supports the educational mission of Brigham Young University-Hawai'i by providing an extension of the classroom in a workplace setting.

In the past 40 years, the center has employed more than 12,000 BYU-Hawai'i students, who earn money for tuition, room and board, and books.