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Wednesday, August 6, 2003



Agreement
may save pagoda
at cemetery

A nonprofit group would help
raise funds to maintain the park


Creditors have reached an agreement that could end Honolulu Memorial Park's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case and save its deteriorating pagoda.

Jerrold Guben, attorney for Honolulu Memorial Park, filed a proposed restructuring plan Friday, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris gave a group of niche and plot owners at the cemetery until Sept. 2 to carry out the plan.

The Pali cemetery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2001, and its owners planned to demolish the pagoda as part of a reorganization plan, saying it would cost too much to repair.

The new proposal means no niche owners in the pagoda, which houses urns, will be displaced.

"It's been a relief," said plot owner Ann Ono, a member of the group's steering committee. "It's what we've been looking toward. We have something concrete."

Under the plan, the Friends of Honolulu Memorial Park, a nonprofit organization that primarily includes niche and plot owners, would acquire 100 percent stock ownership in the cemetery.

In January, Wayne Kotomori began rallying niche and plot owners to save the cemetery's 119-foot pagoda. After meeting in February, some niche and plot owners began organizing to save the pagoda.

There are more than 4,300 niche and plot owners.

"The pagoda became too much of a symbol of division rather than one of unity," said Chris Porter, a volunteer attorney for the Friends. "We're really not here to just save the pagoda, but we're here to keep the park open."

Once everyone understood that, they were able to move forward, Porter said.

"If nobody stepped to the plate and was willing to take this on, they would just shut the doors," he said.

The Richards brothers, who own 90 percent of the shares, have agreed to the plan. He expects a minority shareholder, who owns the remaining 10 percent, to give his consent since the stock is worthless.

The Friends propose to raise funds through donations and grants to supplement the perpetual care fund, which is used for maintenance.

The funds to maintain the park are in a perpetual care fund under Honolulu Memorial Association, but had fallen to just under $1 million, which is not enough to generate interest income to pay for maintenance. Once the Friends boost the fund to the proper levels, the interest income could be used to maintain the park.

Guben said the Richards brothers would continue to subsidize the bare-bones maintenance, about $6,000 monthly for a limited time or until the cemetery is converted to a nonprofit corporation.

Plot owner Reggie Takaki said whenever he would visit the grave site, "grass was growing tall, and even the trash was piling up."

With the new plan, "at least we have some control," he said. "I have my parents and relatives in it, and eventually I'll go in it."

"So now at least the lawn will be manicured and watered, and the trash will be dumped, and the place will start looking good," he said.

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