A group that has been planning to build an “inclusive” public playground at Ala Moana Regional Park is bowing to public pressure and agreeing to work with the community to instead place the facility on Kakaako park lands recently obtained by the city.
The nonprofit group Pa‘ani Kakou has scheduled a Saturday morning press conference in Kakaako to discuss its change of plans and has invited the leaders of three groups opposed to the Ala Moana playground plan to join them along with Honolulu Mayor Kirk
Caldwell and other city officials.
Leaders of Save Ala Moana Beach Park Hui and Malama Moana, two of the three opposition groups, said they were intending to show up at the press conference to reiterate their support for the plan being removed from the Ala Moana Regional Park Master Plan. They said, however, they will hold off endorsing anything else Pa‘ani Kakou is planning until they learn more.
The groups and other playground opponents have objected to the 1-acre facility being located mauka of the Diamond Head concession stand near the entrance to Magic Island largely because they believe it would be out of character in what’s supposed to be an open passive park.
The groups and others in the community also
accused Caldwell and the city of providing Pa‘ani Kakou special treatment by allowing the group to locate the playground on valuable park space with little public input. Pa‘ani Kakou’s directors are comprised of residents of the exclusive Park Lane condominium complex across the street and/or are affiliated with the Kobayashi Group and MacNaughton Group, the condominium’s developers. Most have given significant political contributions to Caldwell and City Council members.
The Council last month adopted Resolution 19-263, calling on Caldwell to consider moving the planned playground to Kakaako. The mayor, in response, defended the group for providing “a gift” to the city and said it “should be thanked, not vilified.”
A spokesperson for Pa‘ani Kakou, however, said the group is now willing to consider a move.
“We are agreeing to work with those opposed to it being in Ala Moana beach park,” said Tiffany Vara, Pa‘ani Kakou president. “We’re glad to be in conversation with all the parties … I think the most productive way forward is for everybody to be at the table talking.”
Asked if her group is abandoning the Ala Moana location, Vara said “I think right now we are deeply committed to compromise … that’s the healthiest thing for the community right now. All of our attention is focused on Kakaako right now.”
The Ala Moana plan has been developed to the point where renderings of the planned playground were being distributed publicly. Relocating to Kakaako would be a “from-scratch project,” requiring a lot of discussion, planning and likely permit approvals, Vara said. “We would be starting all over again.”
The “inclusive” playground is aimed at providing those with disabilities a
facility where they would
be able to enjoy the same features other playground users could. Pa‘ani Kakou members have said they
intended Ala Moana to be their first inclusive playground that would be built through private donations while a second is planned for West Oahu.
The group, when asked in the past about relocating, has stated that Ala Moana would draw more visitors and therefore make it more financially viable than
Kakaako for a vendor who would run a concession and be responsible for maintaining inclusive restrooms. The fewer people also would pose a safety issue in the more isolated location, they said.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who introduced the resolution seeking the playground’s relocation, said it would be located next to the Children’s Discovery Center. Not only could both facilities share security staff, the proximity to each other would offer a good synergy between the two attractions, she said.
Caldwell said he’s pleased that a compromise appears to be in the offing and the city is also open to consider Kakaako and other sites outside of Ala Moana.
However, he said, “if we’re going to look at another park, there has to be an analysis of whether there would be sufficient foot traffic one, to serve the kids, and two, ensure that there’s a concession stand generating enough revenue to help cover operation and maintenance.”
Environmental studies would need to be done, he said, noting the site is a former municipal landfill. There also would need to be approvals from the area neighborhood board and the Council, he said. “And so I do think it’s premature to say ‘absolutely it’s going to be here and not there,’ ” he said. “I don’t want to get ahead of it and say ‘this
is where it is, no matter what.’”
Even with the tentative agreement to possibly relocate the site, the city is proceeding on its Ala Moana Regional Park Master Plan which requires a special management area use permit from the Council. The plan includes not just the playground, but 16 other projects, including parking improvements, a dog park, sand replenishment on the beach, expansion of both the vehicular and pedestrian entrances and renovation of McCoy Pavilion and Banyan Courtyard.
Those who oppose the playground also have raised concerns about some of the other features, including the dog park and sand replenishment project.
The Department of Planning and Permitting is holding a public hearing on the SMA permit application Wednesday, 10:30 a.m., at McCoy Pavilion.
Audrey Lee of Malama Moana and Sharlene Chun-Lum of Save Ala Moana Beach Park Hui both said while they like that Kakaako is being looked at as the playground, they want to
attend Saturday’s press conference and hear what else Pa‘ani Kakou has planned before endorsing it.
“We don’t have any details yet,” Lee said. “We need some answers as to what they want … but we are in support of them moving the playground outside of Ala Moana beach park. That’s all we can support at this point.”
“I guess we agreed to
be supportive of it being moved out of Ala Moana beach park and we’re waiting to hear from the decision-makers and the gifters what their future plans are,” Chun-Lum said. “We’re glad they actually listened to the resolution and took it to heart.” She said she also likes that playground proponents and Caldwell are discussing the need to go through the proper processes and to obtain ample public input.