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Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Harris may back
buying Waimea

A city official says the
administration will consider
a public-private partnership
for the valley

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City Councilwoman Rene Mansho's plan for the city to lead a purchase of Waimea Valley Adventure Park and its surrounding area appears to have the backing of Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Malcolm Tom, the city's deputy managing director, told Mansho's Budget Committee today that the administration wants to work with the Council to come up with a "public-private partnership" for preservation of the 1,875-acre valley.

While the property has been listed on the real estate market since August for $25 million by owner Christian Wolffer, Tom said the property has been assessed for tax purposes at $5.1 million.

"Our first step is to do an appraisal," Tom said, adding that the administration would even entertain a supplemental budget request this fiscal year if necessary. "We appreciate the opportunity to preserve a natural treasure," Tom said. As for the public-private partnership, he said one possibility would be to have a nonprofit entity run the entire facility.

Another idea might be to have a for-profit entity run the restaurant and retail operations only, Tom said. He emphasized, however, that it is premature to say exactly how a partnership would work.

Only 300 acres of the valley are considered part of the park facility.

Several of Mansho's colleagues were cautious about the proposal. Councilman John Henry Felix said he likes the concept, but is worried that the public would perceive a purchase as a bailout.

Members John DeSoto and Andy Mirikitani expressed similar concerns.

Felix and Councilman Steve Holmes said emphasis should be placed on the botanical, biological and archaeological significance of the property.

Representatives of Na Leo Pohai, the public policy arm of the Outdoor Circle, and the Historic Hawaii Foundation were among those testifying in support of the plan. Ray Greene, general manager for the park, said he believes Wolffer would be amenable to city purchase "if the price is right."

Not factoring in debt service, the park still loses money, but only "marginally," Greene said. "We've got it close enough to where I think we can save it."

Greene said the key would be whether the park would be allowed the chance to bring in new attractions to ensure visitors return. "It's what have you done lately, and we haven't done much lately," he said.

The park employs 148 employees, most of whom live in the North Shore region, Greene said.

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