A Chinese firm is moving its estimated $1.5 billion Atlantis resort at Ko Olina closer to construction after more than two years of planning.
China Oceanwide Holdings Ltd. applied for two infrastructure permits last year and has published renderings of the 1,400-room Hawaii Atlantis Hotel featuring an aquarium and a water park.
The company declined to discuss any construction timetable, but the permitting work represents progress for a project that has attracted some skepticism.
In November, Oceanwide applied for a water use and well construction permit that the state Commission on Water Resource Management granted in January.
This permit allows the developer to draw 720,000 gallons of salt water daily from three proposed wells to feed aquarium and “aquaventure” features for the resort.
Oceanwide also applied for a building permit in August to construct a retaining wall and shoreline path improvements valued at $500,000. This application is still under review by the city.
Keith Vieira, principal of local hotel industry consulting firm KV &Associates Hospitality Consulting, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Atlantis project takes 10 years to deliver, given that it’s one of the biggest and most challenging resort projects ever planned in Hawaii.
“Ideas are generally pretty easy,” he said. “Execution is the challenge.”
Vieira said complexities for Atlantis include Hawaii’s construction costs, Oceanwide’s ability to move money out of China under restrictive Chinese government rules, environmental considerations, dealing with marine life and a project scope that dwarfs Disney’s nearby 800-room Aulani resort.
“If they can pull it off, good for them,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult.”
Other observers have also expressed skepticism about Oceanwide’s plans for Atlantis, which were announced in late 2016 after the company bought 26 acres of land in front of two man-made lagoons at Ko Olina for $280 million.
The skepticism stems from an initial projection by Ko Olina’s master developer that construction could begin in 2017, as well as recent difficulties with an Oceanwide condominium and hotel tower complex in Los Angeles, where construction abruptly stopped in January.
Other projects previously announced for Ko Olina never materialized, including a “world-class” aquarium that was projected to break ground in 2007, a Hilton hotel announced in 2002, an Intrawest timeshare project announced in 2002 and a
$1 billion resort called the Grand Ko Olina that was announced in 2005 and featured a “Shark Island” in an adventure lagoon.
In Los Angeles, Oceanwide was on schedule to finish building a more than
$1 billion condo and hotel complex with three towers this year. But the company ran into a financing problem that halted construction in January. According to Los Angeles Times stories, Oceanwide predicted work would resume in mid-February, but that didn’t happen.
The Vox Media online real estate publication Curbed reported March 21 that construction was still stalled and that subcontractors had filed about $100 million in mechanic’s liens for work they did without being paid.
An Oceanwide representative declined to comment on the status of construction and unpaid bills for the Los Angeles project.
Jeff Stone, master developer of Ko Olina, in late 2016 said he expected that construction on Atlantis could start in mid-2017 and be finished this year. That appears to have been overly optimistic, especially considering that it took three years of construction for an initial phase of Aulani to open.
Aulani was announced in late 2007, and construction commenced in 2008 as projected. The Disney resort with a water park opened in 2011.
Sweetie Nelson, director of destination marketing for the Ko Olina Resort Association, speaking on behalf of Oceanwide, said the company deferred commenting on a timetable for building Atlantis.
“As you can imagine, the project is hugely complex,” she said. Nelson also provided a short statement from Oceanwide that said, “The design process is well under way and Oceanwide is grateful for the local support they have been receiving from various consultants.”
Oceanwide said its
Atlantis Ko Olina resort
will create an “unprecedented experience to tourists as a landmark entertainment resort.”
When the project was announced in partnership with Atlantis resort brand operator Kerzner International Holdings Ltd., Kerzner said the Hawaii property would be a “must see” attraction.
“Atlantis will astonish and amaze, as well as celebrate the history and culture of Hawaii,” Jean-Gabriel Peres, president and CEO of Kerzner, said in a statement at the time.
Some features at existing Atlantis resorts include scuba diving and dining rooms with underwater views. At an Atlantis resort that opened last year in China, underwater suites rent for $15,000 a night.
The Atlantis Sanya project was developed by Chinese-based Fosun International for about
$1.7 billion and is managed by Kerzner on Hainan island, which is sometimes referred to as “China’s Hawaii.”
The roughly 1,300-room project was completed a little over four years after it was announced.