Kaimana Beach's neighboring War Memorial Natatorium could be a volleyball venue, swimming structure or dismantled for a bolstered local beach. Thusfar, posturing and failed promises have stalled each. What gives?
More often than not, visitors to the lovely island of O‘ahu make their way down the south shore towards the local-friendly Kaimana Beach—a sun-drenched swath of sand and sea frequented by those with HNL mailing addresses. And, eventually, the more inquisitive of these curious folk ask, “What is that magnificent structure that seems to be boarded up and impassable?” The answer—although the structure was the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium—isn’t really that simple.
In fact, at the moment, this coveted piece of paradise is (and has been for decades) inaccessible. But that’s all about to change.
Heated conversations have peaked in recent weeks between Kaimana Beach Coalition, the state legislature, the Waikiki Improvement Association and a veritable cast of characters all employing their best tactics to get something—almost anything, some say—done. Yet in a state overrun by complacency, this hasn’t been the easiest of tasks.
Latest developments include Governor Neil Abercrombie’s administration being forced to publicly share emailed between Mayor Peter Carlisle's camp to kill a nearly-completed Environmental Impact Study (EIS) ordered in 2009 by the Coalition, who voted affirmatively to replace the Natatorium with a sandy beach and volleyball court at the estimated cost of $15 million. (Coalition members who voted include Rick Egged, head of Waikiki Improvement Association, lifeguard/waterman Brian Keaulana, Waikiki Aquarium director Andrew Rossiter, Historic Hawaii Foundation executive director Kristen Faulkner, various retired USMC and WW2/Vietnam/Korea veterans, UH professor Chip Fletcher, HNL Dept. of Design and Construction deputy director Collins Lam and Rick Bernstein, Kaimana Beach Coalition spokesperson and proponent of Memorial Beach.)
The Coalition alleges that with the EIS now killed (and $750,000 of taxpayer dollars wasted), the concept to fill the empty pool (that once saw Duke Kahanamoku training for his successful Olympic run) and surrounding, crumbling cement barriers and topped with sand that could be used for a sunset show/concert venue geared more towards the visitor industry (which may include a bolstered volleyball stadium), was now a government-meets-private-sector game of who can award whose friends the bigger contracts. This coincides with the University of Hawaii’s debut year of having an official sand volleyball team—just as the sport is picking up steam globally. (Sand volleyball's huge draw at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London has also bolstered the visibility of the sport.)
However, locals are righteously crying foul because of both the under-the-radar emails, the glut of traffic and inaccessibility to Waikiki beaches such a venue would inevitably cause, the loss of a "local-friendly" venue (neighboring Kaimana Beach) to further tourist industry posturing at the cost of Hawaii residents and their hard-earned tax dollars. One staunch proponent of the “Save Kaimana Beach” effort said to B on Hawaii in an exclusive: “If they bring in regular volleyball tournaments to attract tourist dollars, there will be no way to get to Kaimana Beach for locals. And if locals can’t get to the last remaining “locals friendly” beach in Waikiki, pretty soon there won’t be any locals. We’re outta here.”
Rick Egged, head of the Waikiki Improvement Association, has told a local television station that he just wants “something” done. Volleyball, an improved natatorium, beach, or even an expanded aquarium would be suitable to him. But “doing nothing” is "not a suitable option."
As of this printing, The Coalition directed the governor and mayor's camps towards all three of the current, widely underutilized show/concert venues less than 500 yards from the Natatorium that could be emboldened, and better used. The Waikiki Shell, the Kodak Hula Show and the Bandstand (that is most often used by sleeping homeless people). It has been estimated that for $300,000 - $500,000 the state could convert the Kodak Hula Show venue to a volleyball arena; this varies greatly from the roughly $50 million the Save Kaimana Beach organizers peg the actual costs for filling the Natatorium, underwater anchor work and fill, plus stadium seating and the like. That is, $50 million from the people of Hawaii's pockets.
The debate goes on. You can get all the latest from the local perspective at www.savekiamanabeach.org.
"...If locals can’t get to the last remaining “locals friendly” beach in Waikiki, pretty soon there won’t be any locals. We’re outta here.” – Save Kaimana Beach proponent