Manoa to discuss options for Paradise Park
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By James Gonser
Roadside signs have popped up in Manoa that ask "Paradise Park. What's Up?"
It's a crucial question for residents and others interested in the future of the tropical rainforest area of upper Manoa known as Paradise Park, an issue that's long been unresolved in the valley.
Some residents are hoping an upcoming community meeting will help spur a plan for the best use of the 152-acre site, which is owned by the Catholic Church and leased to the James Wong family through 2041.
The March 8 meeting will be the first time all parties will come together to talk publicly about their plans, according to Malama o Manoa officials, sponsors of the event.
"Our job is to make sure the community — whoever takes over the 152 acres — knows how it will impact the valley," said Malama member Helen Nakano. "We want them to be aware of what is being thought about by all the different players."
Paradise Park opened to the public in 1968 and closed in 1994, and featured an exotic-bird exhibit and botanical garden that was operated by the Wong family.
The property borders the Lyon Arboretum, city Board of Water Supply land and the state's Manoa Falls hiking trail. Tree Tops Restaurant and a charter school, Halau Ku Mana, continue to operate on part of the site.
Since the park closed, it has been targeted for condemnation by the city, which proposed converting it to a public park, and considered for purchase by numerous private investors as well as the University of Hawai'i.
Several proposals are being considered for the site, including a Hawaiian cultural center, a spiritual retreat, a wedding chapel and a UH-operated ecological research facility.
Malama o Manoa, whose mission is to preserve, protect, and enhance the special qualities of historic Manoa Valley, has formed a Manoa Mauka committee to gather information about plans for the area.
Duane Preble, chairman of the committee, said this meeting could be a pivotal moment for the future of the valley.
"We are focusing on real estate issues and who controls the land and what is the potential for taking care of the land in a more comprehensive way," he said. "That includes conservation and conservation research, cultural preservation, environmentally appropriate recreation, and active environmental education."
One proposal for the area comes from the University of Hawai'i, which wants to use the area to develop the Pacific Center for Ecosystem Science center to coordinate state, federal and private efforts to preserve Pacific island ecosystems.
In 2002, the Legislature set aside $5.5 million in general obligation bonds for the center. However, the money has not been released by the Lingle administration, which has said the cost of maintenance for the new facility would be prohibitive.
Rep. Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), said the funds are protected and could still be used to build the center.
"Having an ecological center up there, something that looks at reforestation to native forests, would be good for the community and the state," said Caldwell. "As long as it is done low-impact with a sensitivity to preserving the back of the valley, the people of Manoa will like it a lot."
Reach James Gonser at email@example.com.