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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 5:46 p.m., Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Disney unveils plans for 800-room Oahu resort

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer


An artist rendering of Disney's planned Ko Olina resort, set to open in 2011.

Disney photo

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Gov. Linda Lingle hosts a news conference with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Jay Rasulo announcing Disney's plans for a Ko Olina resort.

Bruce Asato | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Walt Disney Parks & Resorts plans to break ground next year for a stand-alone luxury resort built on 21 acres at Ko Olina that the company is purchasing for $144 million.

Jay Rasulo, chairman of Disney parks and resorts, said this is the first mixed-use family resort outside of its theme park developments.

Rasulo provided initial details at a news conference in the fifth-floor state Capitol office of Gov. Linda Lingle. He said the resort is expected to open in 2011 and provide 1,000 jobs. He said the company plans to build a Hawaiian-themed family resort.

"We are looking forward to building a special family resort that honors the cultural diversity of Hawai'i and reflects the spirit of aloha that makes this location so unique," Rasulo said. Disney characters Lilo and Stitch — from the animated film of the same name — made the trip from the Magic Kingdom with Rasulo.

He said Hawai'i already is a very popular destination for members of its Vacation Club, the growing Disney time-share condominium developments and will provide "another way to visit a place that they've loved for many years with a brand they trust."

He said the 800 units will include both hotel rooms and villas for the resort and time-share.

"As the crossroads of Asia, it is your diverse culture that makes this place so special. we look forward to building a family resort that honors the spirit of aloha and welcomes guests from all over the world," Rasulo said.

The property is next to one of the man-made lagoons built in the Ko Olina area on the diamondhead side of J.W. Marriott's Ihilani resort.

The Disney resort will be built on the big bright-green field where the NFL Pro Bowl players have practiced in recent years. "There are absolutely no plans for a theme park," Rasulo said.

Lingle said the project fits well with Hawai'i's reputation as a family destination. "The Disney name brings that to everyone's mind, front and center," she said.

"We both have names that we want to protect," Lingle said. " It is in both of our interests and it plays to our strengths."

Lingle said the resort amounts to "a very courageous decision, one that can have tremendous social impact."

She said the project will add jobs and help the community. The Leeward Coast community has struggled with economic issues that include a shortage of affordable housing and a growing homeless population living on the beaches.

Rasulo said Disney operates 36 resorts around the world. "This project will tell a Hawaiian story," he said.

Wai'anae Coast community leader William Aila said the Disney group hosted a lunch with him and other community and cultural leaders after the formal announcement at the state Capitol.

He said they invited corporate executives, political leaders and cultural practitioners to share a meal at a Chinese restaurant in Waikiki and learn about their conceptual design for the resort, which has been under wraps until yesterday.

Aila said the Disney executives talked about honoring culturally appropriate concepts. "I think if they stick to Walt Disney's vision of these sort of theme resorts bringing hope and telling the indigenous story, they'll be fine," he said.

But he said the community will need to see that commitment. "If they stray far from that, there could be problems with the development as it goes on, he said.

As a native Hawaiian, Aila said he asked some very pointed questions, but got generally good answers and an open attitude about the process. "I felt positive," he said.

Ko Olina master developer Jeff Stone, who has seen other proposed partners come and go, said he was elated by the news. "It's a dream come true," he said.

"I grew up in Burbank and Walt Disney was my idol," Stone said. "I think it's a perfect fit for the community. I think they're sensitive and I think they know exactly what needs to be done."

He noted that the project would not use the tax credit that he had requested from the state Legislature to help spur the construction of a long-planned aquarium.

"I think it's going to fulfill all the promises that I made to the legislators," he said. Since the development won't use the tax credit, "it makes it even more exciting because we could hopefully reallocate that tax credit to the things we need it for, affordable housing, work force."

For residents not likely to work at the hotel or stay there, Stone says there will be another benefit — increased public access to the beachfront and man-made lagoons. "It will actually increase public access, make it easier for everyone to come and have a great time."

He said the resort already provides more than 200 free parking stalls and this development will add parking.

City Council member Todd Apo, who represents the area and works for Ko Olina, said the project appeals in many ways. He noted Disney's reputation as a firm dedicated to training and helping the community.

As current budget chairman of the Council, Apo said the prospect of a spike in property taxes looks promising as well. He said this kind of development should help in the larger plan of nurturing Kapolei as a secondary urban center or "creating the true second city."

Lingle said she welcomes Disney for the hotel and all its other companies: Touchstone Films, ABC, and other elements.

State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said the Disney announcement should be a good fit. "To bring the name of Disney to the destination elevates that brand and image as a family destination," she said.

With more and more families traveling together, Wienert said that's an important and growing tourism trend.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.