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City to replace Natatorium pool with public memorial beach

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Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Kirk Caldwell today announced a partnership to develop a public memorial beach at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

Under the plan, the state will hand over development of the site back to the city, which intends to tear down the pool, relocate the archway and create a new beach where the crumbling pool and stadium now stand.

The project is estimated to cost $18.4 million in 2015 dollars, city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said. Full restoration of the facility would have cost $69.4 million, he said.

“The city is open to state funding but is prepared to fund it if necessary,” Broder Van Dyke said. He noted that a $2 million earmark appropriation that Abercrombie put into the state budget this session was shot down by the Legislature.

An environmental impact study was paid for and started, but was halted by the Carlisle administration. That process will now restart, Broder Van Dyke said.

The agreement is a major development in the decades-long tug-of-war between those who want to keep the natatorium — built in 1927 as a monument to World War I veterans — and those who believe the dilapidated structure should be torn and replaced with something more useful.

The facility’s swimming pool was closed in 1979 due to disrepair. 

Abercrombie, in December, indicated that the pool itself will likely be demolished. “Right now it looks as if removal of the pool itself is a likely outcome,” the governor said then.

Further, he said of the facility’s dilapidated condition, “The natatorium simply can’t go on the way it is. It’s almost immoral.”

Officials from the state and city have been working together the last several months on a plan to address the future the facility, sources said.

Early last year, Abercrombie had indicated a preference for turning the grounds into a beach volleyball facility. He acknowledged in December, however, that such a plan is not feasible.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition, which favors tearing down the structure, and the Friends of the Natatorium, which supports full restoration, both objected to the beach volleyball facility idea.

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