Island Icon on Ice

Coco Palms restoration hits dead end

By: Dawna L. Robertson

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Vintage photo at Coco Palms
While the winter weather on Kauai’s eastern shore typically calls for sunny days, a cloud of uncertainty is looming over the historic Coco Palms Resort.

An ambitious $220 million plan to revive the island icon has been shelved by its owners, and the property is once again for sale.

According to representatives of Coco Palms Ventures, purchaser of the Wailua property in January 2006, the company has opted to halt redevelopment partly due to a permit rejection for a full-scale fitness spa a project it deemed essential to raising the resort’s profile. The decision was also based in part on a slowdown in the resort residential market.

“Kauai recognizes the important cornerstone Coco Palms was to the beginning of our visitor industry, and the island community watches closely to see what will happen to the property,” said Sue Kanoho, Kauai Visitors Bureau executive director.

The legendary resort has stood in ruins from extensive damage sustained by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. With the reopening of the former Poipu Beach Hotel as Koa Kea Hotel and Resort later this year, Coco Palms will be Kauai’s only hurricane-damaged property yet to be rebuilt.

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Elvis Presley getting married in a scene from
“Blue Hawaii,” filmed at the Coco Palms in 1961.
Coco Palms Venture had committed to restoring the property in a way that would properly honor the vision and intent of the resorts’ founders, Lyle Guslander and Grace Buscher-Guslander. Under their ownership in the 1950s and 1960s, Kauai’s flagship hotel had achieved a high level of grandeur.

“To this day, many people talk of the wonderful job Grace Guslander did with Coco Palms,” said Kanoho. “The Guslanders and Coco Palms Resort are credited with helping to put Kauai on the map for the visitor industry.”

A modest 24-room hideaway when it came onto the tourism scene in 1953, Coco Palms vaulted into immortality with Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii,” filmed on the grounds in 1961.

When the Coco Palms revival was slated to begin last summer, plans had called for constructing 200 luxury condominiums and 48 guest cottages. Some 57,000 square feet of commercial space was allotted for restaurants, retail, meetings, banquets, weddings and the aforementioned fitness center/spa. Tucked within 16.4 acres across the road from the white sands of Wailua Bay, the new Coco Palms was originally scheduled to reopen this summer.

Coco Palms Venture