Natatorium vote prudent


POSTED: Monday, September 28, 2009

What to do about the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium has been in dispute since at least 1979, when the saltwater pool where Duke Kahanamoku once swam laps was shuttered as a health hazard.

Over the years since, the Star-Bulletin has editorialized in favor of preserving the arched monument to World War I veterans and restoring the dilapidated oceanside pool and bleachers—but the cost of the project has risen exorbitantly with time as the structures have continued to weaken and the political bickering has intensified.

Now that a mayoral advisory panel has voted, Honolulu's government and its citizens would be wise to seriously consider its recommendations.

The task force, which included people devoted to restoring the Natatorium at any cost and others who want to demolish it, voted 9-3 Thursday to tear down the bleachers and pool, relocate the memorial arch to Kapiolani Park's nearby Hau Tree Arbor and build two groins to expand adjacent Kaimana Beach.

That recommendation now goes to Mayor Mufi Hannemann; he is known to favor demolition.

The panel has made a fiscally prudent recommendation that would honor World War I veterans by preserving the distinctive memorial archway, albeit in a new, nearby location, and improve Oahu's main tourism district by widening popular Kaimana Beach, clearing now-obstructed ocean views and removing the eyesore that the 82-year-old saltwater pool sadly has become.

The city estimated the cost of that option to be $15.1 million. By comparison, stabilization and restoration of the memorial and pool was put at $57 million.

Skeptics are correct, however, to urge caution in the beach expansion, noting that past efforts, in Waikiki and elsewhere, have not always gone as planned.

Members of the Friends of the Natatorium oppose the task force's recommendations, and have vowed to continue their uphill battle to save the historic landmark, which was built in 1927.

But the harsh reality is that if they could not come up with millions and millions of dollars in donations needed from the tourist industry and military organizations when Hawaii's economy was thriving, it is unlikely that their fundraising efforts will be any more successful now, as the state and the nation struggle through a bleak economy.

The poor condition of the memorial is disrespectful to veterans, and it may be better to refurbish and relocate the archway now than to keep fighting over the matter as the monument continues to degrade.