Battle lines form over zoo entry
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
A proposed $2.3 million entrance planned for the Honolulu Zoo would: (a) update the look and attract more visitors; or (b) emphasize commercialism while abandoning history and risking legal action.
City officials take the first position, favoring a new zoo entrance that would push out into the front lawn to the 'ewa side of the current entrance, so it would be more visible from Kalakaua and Kapahulu avenues.
But the Kapi'olani Park Preservation Society and the Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board take the second view. They have expressed concerns about the project that calls for the demolition of the current entrance, a low-rise structure designed by the late noted architect Alfred Preis, who also designed the Arizona Memorial.
Preservation society member and citizen advocate Nancy Bannick said the city shouldn't demolish the Preis structure to create a new entrance closer to the parking lot.
She describes the new entrance as "a large commercial zoo shop building projecting beyond the zoo fence about 40 feet toward Kapahulu Avenue, blocking views to the ocean from much of the parking lot."
But city Enterprise Services Director Sidney A. Quintal sees the design as a needed update after 44 years, one that would help attract more visitors, making the zoo less dependent on tax dollars.
City Design and Construction Director Eugene Lee said a $2.3 million design-build contract was awarded in December to Okada Trucking Co., but he said the plan is still being designed and will go before the City Council before it can proceed.
Lee said the new entrance would include a larger gift shop, public restrooms and an area for stroller rentals as well as the ticketing operation.
"The existing building is termite-eaten and water-damaged," Lee said. And the building is low, he said, forcing some taller zoo-goers to have to bend over to get in.
"We've put a lot of effort and time into this design," Quintal said, which would still have "some Hawaiian flair."
Lee said the money for the project was put in the fiscal year 2005 budget and is part of a renaissance at the zoo that includes a new veterinary clinic, a children's zoo and orangutan and tiger exhibits.
"Our focus is to try to make the zoo more functional and self-sufficient," Lee said. "We're not here to ram anything down anybody's throat. We prefer to work with people."
Lee said the city expects to complete the master plan for both the Honolulu Zoo and Kapi'olani Park within the next two months. He said the project would require several permits and public hearings before construction could begin.
Quintal said various Honolulu city officials have been talking about a new entrance to the zoo since at least 1993. City Councilman Charles Djou, an attorney who represents Waikiki, said he endorses the concept of a new entrance but wants city attorneys to research the legal questions raised by critics.
"I do think the zoo needs a new entrance," Djou said. "The entrance is sort of set back a way from Kalakaua."
He added, "The zoo is a tremendous jewel that I think has been underutilized. It's a good thing that we're trying to spiff it up."
But Djou said project opponents have raised two legal concerns: Is the current structure considered historic; and does the project encroach improperly on Kapi'olani Park trust lands, presenting a possible legal battle similar to when the city proposed a Burger King restaurant in the zoo in the 1980s?
Djou said he believes the project can proceed but wants legal questions answered before construction begins.
Honolulu architect Jahn-Peter Preis, whose father designed the existing entrance, said he proposed to city officials last week that the entrance be repaired and expanded.
Preis, a licensed professional architect since 1973, said he feels so strongly about the project that he offered to present an alternative design that includes the city's specifications for a new entrance but preserves the historic look.
"I'm saying that I can incorporate their ideas with the existing zoo entry and come up with a plan that would make everybody happy," Preis said.
He said there's room to expand without demolishing the 1962 structure.
"What's important to me is that it would be done right," Preis said. "If I get paid, wonderful; if I don't get paid, that's life."
Lee said a survey of people who go to the nearby information kiosk indicated many asked where to find the zoo even as they stood within yards of the current entrance. "The entrance is right there, but they can't see it," Lee said.
Bannick is skeptical of the claim that the current entrance keeps a lot of people from going to the zoo.
Lee said the city could modify the project or cancel it, but canceling at this stage would mean that the city would have to pay the contractor for work that's been done.
He said the plan would not affect the parking lot.
Bannick said she's not opposed to change.
"We have nothing against improvements to the zoo," she said. But "to have a big garish shop out there, that's not right."
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com.