Merrie Monarch halau scramble for places to stay after public gyms ruled out

Updated: Aug. 17, 2017 at 11:56 PM HST
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(image: Hawaii News Now)
(image: Hawaii News Now)
(image: Hawaii News Now)
(image: Hawaii News Now)

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii County Mayor has alerted Merrie Monarch Festival organizers that overnight stays at county gyms is now prohibited.

Mayor Harry Kim says it's a violation of county fire code.

"We have old facilities that do not have fire standards as far as safety. We have to enforce that for the safety of everyone," said Mayor Kim.

Mayor Kim said there's no new law. He said it was just this year that the Hawaii County Fire Department told him that fire and building codes are being violated by allowing this practice.

He said a total of 23 halau entered the 2017 Merrie Monarch Festival and four of them relied on Hawaii County gyms to house 135 dancers.

For years, those gyms have been a haven for traveling groups, saving them money and keeping them in the community. For Halau Hi'iakainamakalehua Kumu Hula Robert Keano Kaupu IV, the Merrie Monarch Festival is not just a time for his halau to shine, it's a time for him to come home.

"We stay at Kawanakoa (Gym) because number one, it's my home, and number two, the community is such a great support…I'm not from Oahu, so my support is at home. So that would have been a perfect, that is a perfect place, for me to be and bring my halau and cannot," Kaupu said.

Kaupu said he found out on Facebook Wednesday night and it felt like being kicked out of his own home.

"I assure that this is not to leave anyone high and dry. We realize the value of the Merrie Monarch and how beneficial it is to everyone. It was the county government that developed the Merrie Monarch, we know the specialness of it," Mayor Kim said.

Mayor Kim said they are currently looking at other accommodations.

"One place that, as inconvenient it may sound, is 35 miles up the hill, on Saddle Road, a brand new county park that will meet our requirements," he said.

The Mauna Kea Recreation Area holds 90 people.

"All the way up Mauna Kea? That's dangerous. I'm from there and I'm still not really comfortable with Saddle (Road) at night," Kaupu said.

Each year, the sleepy town of Hilo becomes a bustling mecca for hula enthusiasts. Travelers usually start booking room accommodations one year in advance.

For Kaupu, he said even if there were rooms available, they would not be able to afford it.

"We already are spending $50,000 and staying in a gym," he said. "I encourage everybody to be supportive of hula and be supportive of the Merrie Monarch festival and be supportive of the halau because it really doesn't feel like it, it really doesn't feel like there's any support for us."

Organizers of the Merrie Monarch Festival said it will continue to work to assist and support all halau however they can.

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