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Will Kauai's legendary, long-shuttered Coco Palms Resort ever reopen?

Coco_Palms_UpdateReader Linda McMahon e-mailed us with a question about one of Hawaii's most iconic resorts:

Are there any plans to reopen the Coco Palms as a hotel or any other facility available to the public? Is it possible to walk in the coconut palm grove behind the former resort?

You ask, we answer.

The future of Kauai’s Coco Palms Resort remains uncertain, 18 years after it was devastated by Hurricane Iniki.

Founded in 1953, the resort became an icon of Hawaii tourism, with its lagoon and 16-acre coconut grove, its evening torch lighting ceremony and its wedding chapel, which was donated by MGM after it was used in Miss Sadie Thompson with Rita Hayworth.

The resort played host to the cast of the movie musical South Pacific, then filming on Kauai's north shore. Elvis made parts of Blue Hawaii at Coco Palms, most notably, a wedding ceremony filmed in the hotel’s lagoon. It served as a location for the 1970s ABC series Fantasy Island. When many people worldwide thought of Hawaii, and especially Kauai, they thought of the Coco Palms.

However, the resort has been virtually untouched since the September 1992 hurricane. It is now in sad shape, as you can see from these photos—on the pages ahead—that we snapped during a recent visit. 

The only way you can visit the site these days is with Hawaii Movie Tours, which has a permit to enter. Even so, you can no longer stroll in the 2,000-tree coconut grove. It has not been maintained, and there’s the danger of falling coconuts.

In 2006, Coco Palms Ventures, a group headed by Maryland-based developer Phillip Ross, bought the resort for $12 million. The property includes 16.4 acres on Kuhio Highway, and the 17-acre coconut grove, which is leased from the state.

Coco Palms Ventures intended to invest $220 million to build 200 condos, 104 hotel rooms and 48 bungalows. It seemed then like the resort would be reborn. 

No such luck. The venture halted all plans and put the property up for sale in 2007. It blamed the Kauai Planning Commission, which denied its plans to build a full-size spa, but also conceded that the weakening housing market was a factor.

Where does the fate of the Coco Palms Resort stand today? The property is still listed for sale. Coco Palm Ventures recently had its permits extended to 2013, but has still not started construction. However, a new player emerged on the scene recently. 

Story continues (with photos) on next page

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Kauai officials looking to spur redevelopment of iconic Coco Palms Resort property
Kauai celebrating 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” this weekend
Travel Channel’s “Off Limits” series delves into Hawaii’s “secret histories”

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