STAR-BULLETIN / 1996
The renowned Mauna Kea Beach Hotel abruptly closed today for repairs and renovations due to October's quakes.
Mauna Kea hotel shuts
Some 420 workers at the Big Isle hotel will be laid off in the temporary closure, expected to last several months to fix earthquake damage
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel will close today temporarily for repairs of structural damage caused by the Oct. 15 earthquakes, laying off more than 400 employees, who will be paid at least through the end of the year.
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
» Built by Laurance S. Rockefeller on the Big Island's Kohala Coast
» Opened in 1965
» Owner: Prince Resorts Hawaii
» 420 employees
» 310 rooms on eight floors
» Closed today for months of repairs and renovations
The announcement came late yesterday after an engineering report found unexpected damage to the lateral bracing system in sections of the roof of the Big Island hotel, the hotel's parent company said in a news release.
The report categorized the damage as a "significant safety hazard that should be addressed as soon as possible," according to Prince Resorts Hawaii.
"It was a surprise," said Charles Park, general manager of the hotel. "We were (originally) looking at the building from the outside and the cracks and the chips," but engineers examined the interior structure.
Park said the hotel's closure is expected to last several months to complete the repairs.
Donn Takahashi, president of Prince Resorts Hawaii, said in the news release, "The hazard is not necessarily imminent, but does pose an unacceptable risk, especially in the light of the ongoing seismic activity of the past few weeks."
The estimated 420 hourly and salaried employees will work their last day today but will continue to receive a paycheck until the end of the year because of the holiday season, the news release said.
"We are going to pay all of the employees through December," Park said. "We don't want anybody going through the holidays without having a paycheck."
Officials said it is still undetermined if the employees will receive a paycheck after December.
Some of the employees will fill jobs at the company's nearby Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel to fill posts for the busy holiday season. The Mauna Kea Golf Course and clubhouse will remain open.
"We have a sister property, and second half of the month is kind of busy over there, so a lot of them will be working over there," Park said.
The management is working with the county, state and federal governments and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to help the employees find work.
Richard Baker, division director of ILWU on the Big Island, said the union will meet with the hotel's management on Dec. 13 to work on developing a memorandum agreement that would lay out the specifics of the employees' benefits.
"It's going to be a trauma, but they're very cooperative and they want to take care of the workers," Baker said. "I think this will be a workable situation."
The employees were notified by a memo passed around by the company, Baker said. "We were waiting for this decision for some time after the earthquake," he said.
Hotel guests were notified of the closure yesterday and are being relocated to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel today.
The company said it will not be taking new reservations and is contacting customers with reservations to help them find alternate hotel accommodations through the holiday season.
"I'm pretty sure that once we notify everybody that has future bookings, some of them will cancel or re-book at different islands or different hotels," Park said. "For the immediate future, we're fine."
About 85 rooms were in use last night at the eight-floor, 310-room Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. More than 140 of the rooms had been removed from inventory because of safety reasons, Park said.
"There's no question that we are saddened that the earthquake had so much damage on one of the grand dames of the visitor plant on the Big Island," said Marsha Weinert, state tourism liaison. "We'll work with them as much as we can to see if we can get it opened in a timely manner."
Weinert added, "The holiday season is a busy time for everyone. Hopefully, we will be able to find other accommodations for those guests on the Big Island. Hopefully, it won't displace any visitors coming to our state."
After the 6.7- and 6.0-magnitude earthquakes on Oct. 15, immediate damage was visible at the Mauna Kea in the collapse of a concrete trellis off the south end of the Beach Front Wing that created a pile of rubble and a concrete shaft separating from the building.
The eighth floor, which was an addition to the original building, was closed after the structural supports on the floor had shifted, Park said.