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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, October 14, 2004

Aquarium chief has 'crazy idea' for Natatorium

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

The new head of Waikiki Aquarium wants to replace the crumbling saltwater pool of the War Memorial Natatorium with the world's largest aquarium.

The plan by Andrew Rossiter, who has held the job of director of Waikiki Aquarium for just six months, is the latest idea to rejuvenate the 77-year-old monument to Hawai'i's World War I veterans, which has been shuttered since 1978.

Rossiter's idea would include a 5.5- to 6-million gallon aquarium 15 yards diamondhead of Waikiki Aquarium; and a two-story building on the makai side of the memorial's facade that would hold public restrooms, showers, community meeting rooms and a war museum.

The new building and aquarium would be invisible to people standing on the mauka side of the facade, Rossiter said.

"It's just one man's crazy idea," Rossiter said yesterday in his office at Waikiki Aquarium. "... But this possibly may provide a solution to the existing situation."

The two-story, 18,000-square-foot building would replace the Natatorium's run-down bleachers. The outdoor tank would be covered by a roof and stretch the entire length of the 110-yard-by-35-yard pool and reach nearly 30 feet below the old deck.

The tank would include a wide array of ocean animals, including whale sharks and manta rays, Rossiter said. He said visitors would more than double — from 330,000 per year to 700,000 — and stroll inside the new aquarium through a series of two or three clear tubes.

Rossiter estimated that construction would take about five years and cost $30 million to $40 million, which he hopes would be paid through a variety of public and private sources.

The memorial is owned by the city and county of Honolulu. City Managing Director Ben Lee said he had not heard about Rossiter's idea, but it would likely face difficult obstacles.

"I think it would be very, very difficult to purchase or acquire a structure owned by the city that's also listed on the federal and state historical register of places," Lee said. "It might be a neat idea and an interesting vision, but to build a structure like that on the water, I just don't know."

Peter Apo, spokesman for the Friends of the Natatorium, said "we would oppose that idea. The Natatorium is a classic building, a national treasure, a work of architectural genius. ... To gut the War Memorial in order to achieve other ends is not something we could support."

Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which favors tearing down the memorial and restoring the beachfront to its natural state, said: "The Kaimana Beach Coalition is for an open beach that can be enjoyed freely by all of the people of Honolulu and all of the visitors to Hawai'i."

If it becomes reality, Rossiter sees the War Memorial's aquarium as "edu-tainment" that would emphasize conservation and natural resources.

It would complement plans for a separate aquarium at Ko Olina that Rossiter characterized as "more of a marine theme park."

Reach Dan Nakaso at 525-8085 or dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.