Hotelier waves hello to new look
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
Andre Tatibouet, the Aston Hotels & Resorts founder who once oversaw 35 hotel and condominium properties in Hawai'i, now oversees just one — the Aqua Waikiki Wave Hotel.
Tatibouet is days away from completing a $7.5 million facelift of the former Coral Reef Hotel, which he bought in 1973. For him, the repositioning of Aqua Waikiki is a "stepping stone to rebuilding my base."
"It's presumptuous of me to talk about what I'm going to do or where I'm going to go, but I consider myself still a reasonably young person with still some rubber on my tires and some gas in my tank," said the 65-year-old Tatibouet during a tour of the hotel last week.
"I expect to be doing a variety of different things in the future within the hospitality industry. It's all I've known all my life."
The Hawai'i-born hotelier, who started in his family's Waikiki hotel business at age 7, said that for the past few years he has been focused on turning around his business and financial affairs.
Tatibouet filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year following a series of legal and financial problems, including foreclosure suits. He sold his Aston Waikiki Beachside hotel in 2003, and his 12,799-square-foot Diamond Head home has been on the market for about a year.
Tatibouet said he's in the process of completing a reorganization plan and is optimistic that he'll exit bankruptcy by the end of the year.
The renovation of the Coral Reef was financed by a $40.5 million loan, which was also used to pay off about $35 million in debts.
Tatibouet said the renovation of the 247-room hotel — including about $30,000 in improvements per room — will take the Kuhio Avenue property from "admittedly a tired, budget hotel" to a midscale, boutique property.
While he envisions doing more in the visitor industry, he says he's concentrating first on this hotel.
"My efforts right now are focused on just ensuring that I help the team here create the most successful relaunch of this hotel from the Coral Reef to the Waikiki Wave," he said. "If I do an effective job at repositioning this hotel, then there's no doubt that I'll be able to move onto some other things.
"But one step at a time. Analogous to that cliche, first I'll walk and then I'll run."
TATIBOUET THROUGH THE YEARS
1948: Andre Tatibouet's parents, Annalie and Joseph "Tati" Tatibouet, opened the Royal Grove Hotel in Waikiki when Andre was 7. After school, Andre Tatibouet would help out at the hotel, including sweeping floors and making beds.
1956: Roy Kelley, patriarch of the Outrigger Hotels & Resorts chain, gave Tatibouet his first paying job as a bellman and desk clerk at the Islander hotel.
1960: While attending the University of Hawai'i, Tatibouet built his first hotel, the four-story Cleghorn Apartment Hotel in Waikiki.
1968: Tatibouet founds Hotel Corporation of the Pacific Inc.
1969: Tatibouet completed his second project, the 360-room Pacific Beach Hotel. He sold that hotel to help grow the company.
1986: Tatibouet renames the company Aston Hotels & Resorts. Tatibouet wanted the company to start with the letter A so it would be at the top of any list, and to end with "on," like Hilton and Sheraton.
1998: Tatibouet sells the Aston hotel chain to ResortQuest International Inc. and continues as Aston president until 2002. He left ResortQuest after a dispute over licensing the Aston brand outside Hawai'i, where he retained Aston brand rights.
May 2003: Tatibouet offered units of the Coral Reef for sale as condominiums and took deposits from nearly 250 potential buyers. But the Queen Emma Foundation, which owned the land, sued to block the sale, arguing that condo ownership could force the foundation to sell its fee-simple interest in the property via the city's lease-to-fee conversion ordinance.
November 2003: Tatibouet sells the Aston Waikiki Beachside Hotel for $9.8 million, resolving a foreclosure lawsuit aimed at repossessing the 79-room boutique hotel.
May 2004: A state judge sided with the Queen Emma Foundation and blocked the sale of the Coral Reef condos.
January 2005: Central Pacific Bank foreclosed on the Coral Reef Hotel after Tatibouet defaulted on mortgage payments.
April 2005: Tatibouet filed for bankruptcy protection, preventing Central Pacific Bank from foreclosing on the Coral Reef.
January 2006: Tatibouet obtains a $40.5 million loan to pay off about $35 million of debts secured by the Coral Reef Hotel and finance a $7.5 million renovation of the property.
May 2006: $7.5 million renovation of Coral Reef begins.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at email@example.com.