Group claims Natatorium planning being done ʻbehind the scenesʻ

Group claims governor plans volleyball or concert venue future for Natatorium

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group that wants to preserve the beach area near the Waikiki Natatorium contends that Gov. Neil Abercrombie is moving behind the scenes to use the aging war memorial as a venue for beach volleyball or concerts.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition obtained e-mails and other documents through the Freedom of Information Act. In one e-mail dated August 8, 2012, the governor's policy director, Wendy Clerinx, says, "The governor is not interested in revisiting the options of doing nothing, restoring the structure, and restoring the original shoreline. He would like to restore the area to be used as some kind of venue/recreational area such as for beach volleyball or concerts."

In another e-mail, dated August 1, 2012, Abercrombie's deputy chief of staff, Blake Oshiro, tells Clerinx, "But the goal is to keep the structure (not demolish pool), but perhaps build on top of it (not fill since walls cannot withstand weight) and use as a venue like beach volleyball or concerts."

"It may be fun for a few nights a year to have a concert there, but it cuts down on beach parking and beach access for regular people," said Kaimana Beach Coalition attorney Jim Bickerton, who released the documents.

Bickerton said the group supports one of the original options -- that of keeping the arches of the current structure, demolishing the pool area and restoring the beach. Bickerton contends that the documents show that the governor and others, including the hotel industry, are meeting privately on the issue.

"They're meeting with the Friends of the Natatorium, and going to see the governor and mayor together. that's something we didn't know. We suspected it, but these e-mails prove that it's happening, so that has us alarmed," Bickerton said.

The possibility of building beach volleyball courts at the Natatorium is something Abercrombie has spoken about before. In May, on Sunrise, the governor said, "I'm working on something right now in regards to beach volleyball and a venue for it. I'm not -- I can't elaborate on it completely right now, but think about the Natatorium and think about sand volleyball and how wonderful it would be if we could feature our sand volleyball players in Waikiki."

In response to the release of the documents, the governor's office issued a statement, which said, "The governor is committed to making improvements to the Natatorium."

Donna Ching, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium, supported what it calls the governor's initiative to have the state assume primary responsibility to preserve the memorial. "Returning the 'living memorial' to its dedicated use as a public gathering place should have been done decades ago. We applaud the City and State's efforts to work together to facilitate a resolution that honors the more than 10,000 from Hawaii who served in World War I and allows future generations of kama'aina to have access to this iconic treasure of Hawaii's history," she said.

But the coalition opposes the possibility of having the Natatorium turned into a volleyball or concert venue. "We don't have much of Waikiki left. The hotels have the whole western side, the condos and the private clubs have the eastern end, and there's just a little piece in between that's left for the public," said Bickerton.

To view the documents released by the Kaimana beach Coalition, click here and here.

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