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Sheraton Maui considering plans to add 410 units

By Staff | Feb 25, 2010

KAANAPALI — With developers talking about disturbing sacred Pu‘u Keka‘a a third time with a plan to “revitalize and expand” the Sheraton Maui Resort, a cultural line in the sand may just have been drawn at Kaanapali Beach.

The Sheraton opened its doors in January 1963, as the first hotel in Kaanapali Beach Resort. In 1997, it celebrated a reopening following a $160 million redevelopment, “resulting in 23 acres of rich tropical landscaping and Hawaiian furnishings and décor; six distinct towers; three diverse restaurants; a new spa and fitness center; and a 142-yard freshwater swimming lagoon,” according to plans.

The existing resort consists of 508 units located within six towers, six stories high.

Although the formal permit process has not commenced, on the 2010 drawing board for Kyo-ya Hotels and Resorts LP is a preliminary proposal to increase the footprint of the West Side facility to 918 units with the addition of 270 new apartment-hotel units and 140 residential multifamily apartments.

According to a fact sheet dated Jan. 11, 2010, “The Molokai Wing, the Pu‘u Keka‘a Presidential Suites (located on Pu‘u Keka‘a), and the Cliff Tower Wing (situated along the cliff face of Pu‘u Keka‘a) will be retained and will undergo interior enhancements. The remaining guest room buildings will be removed and replaced with new buildings to accommodate the new units and public areas.”

Greg Dickhens, executive vice president and senior advisor for Kyo-ya Hotels and Resorts, told the Lahaina News, “When you look at what is proposed on Pu‘u Keka‘a, we would be leaving all the existing buildings in place. We would be adding only one structure. It would be what is proposed as a three-story structure over an existing loading dock, so it is a previously disturbed area. That three-story structure is on the downward slope in the center of Pu‘u Keka‘a, and you really wouldn’t see much difference visually on the mauka view.”

Dickhens added, “We have significant increases in food and beverage outlets; you have a big increase in overall banquet and meeting space; significant increase in parking both for public use, as well as for guest use; so you’d see a substantial increase in overall employment related to this project.”

In return to the community, Kyo-ya is proposing “public contributions to enhance the area surroundings, as well as mitigate potential impacts of the project,” including a cultural park, the development of a “Halau Wa‘a”, enhanced shoreline access and more public parking.

“Currently, on the northern end of Pu‘u Keka‘a, we have a parking lot that exists today. Our intention is to remove that parking lot and dedicate that back to a cultural park that would be available to the public,” Dickhens said.

The fact sheet described the cultural park: “A facility will be designed in recognition of the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of Pu‘u Keka‘a.”

When asked how the architect would specifically incorporate these elemental characteristics of Pu‘u Keka‘a (also called Black Rock) into the design, Dickhens responded, “Certainly the idea of native landscaping and native plants is very important, but keeping it as a cultural park that would be available to the public is really the intent.”

“Halau Wa‘a,” a public canoe hale, is situated at the northernmost portion of the map. Within the 40-foot shoreline setback, it will be a public canoe hale intended for use by a local community canoe group.

“It’s a canoe house,” Dickhens added. “This was an idea brought to us by one of our cultural consultants, the late Ed Lindsey, who envisioned the idea of a canoe house that you would be able to lower canoes into the culvert and take them out into the ocean.”

However, this offer is under reconsideration.

“This is an idea that we’ve developed over time. We’ve discussed it at length with various cultural advisors,” said Dickhens. “It’s an idea that we like, but we have heard some concerns about the location of the facility and type of facility… People in general like the idea of a public canoe hale, but is it appropriate in that location?”

The idea for enhanced shoreline access and more parking remains on the drawing board.

“There is currently an existing shoreline access on the south side, in between the Sheraton Maui and the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. We are adding landscaping, but, more importantly, we are adding additional public parking. Currently, we have about 25 public parking spaces. We intend to have about 50 (parking stalls) in total in the new project, both at the south and north end of the property,” he explained.

Kyo-Ya has contracted with The Peter Apo Group “to plan and execute a process that will yield a Sheraton-Maui Hawaiian Cultural Plan.”

“The development of an actual formal Hawaiian Cultural Plan for a hotel is a somewhat new phenomenon in Hawaii,” Apo explained.  

“The prevailing planning model treats Hawaiian culture like a potted plant — a few here, a few there — move it around a bit,” the CEO/consultant continued.    

“This (new) planning approach is about cultural dignity and honor and legitimate opportunities for Hawaiians to express themselves spiritually and creatively. There are but a handful of hotels willing to make a commitment of the resources required and willing to buy in to the considerable time it takes to navigate the process. With the Sheraton Maui, the owners themselves participate in the focus group dialogues and are there every step of the way willing to engage and listen.”

Despite these cultural commitments, Lahaina resident Gordon Cockett is pessimistic.

“As a kanaka maoli, I have serious problems with this plan. Area names like Honokowai, Hanakao‘o, Kapunakea, Kahua and Pu‘u Keka‘a indicate sacredness, which we must be aware of. Our cultural group looks at the plan with serious dismay. Let me just say that our kupuna have taught us wisely that we are mortals and remain so for a year after death. We are then taken to our leina and sent off to Po — that far, distant very dark place that we mortals have never seen. As I said, Pu‘u Keka‘a is our leina (a place where souls depart) on the West Side, upon which nothing should have been built in the first place.”

Patty Nishiyama is equally frustrated: “Enough already. Would you put a honeymoon suite in a church?”

(Next week, in an interview with Lahaina News, Sam Kaai shares his mana‘o about Pu‘u Keka‘a.)