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Wednesday, October 11, 2000

City & County of Honolulu

tees off for
Royal Kunia

The Council chief wants the
golf course opened for
use by the public

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

CITY Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura and several colleagues want to condemn the never-opened Royal Kunia Golf Course for public use.

Yoshimura said yesterday that the city could either use the 18-hole course as a public facility or sell it to a third party for a profit that would finance the purchase or development of public courses elsewhere on Oahu -- possibly in the Leeward region.

Not only is there a tremendous need for public courses, Yoshimura said, but the city would benefit from taking over the site because golf courses generate money for city coffers.

Yoshimura said he also knows there is interest in the Royal Kunia site from at least one "nationally known corporation."

"A third option is we could deal (with the owners)," Yoshimura said. "I think that this resolution basically puts a lot of people's feet to the fire and expresses the Council's interest in putting that very underutilized property into use."

The move follows Gov. Ben Cayetano's renewed call to close the city's Ala Wai Golf Course and develop a park.

The two schemes are unrelated, Yoshimura said. However, a condemnation of Royal Kunia could factor into Cayetano's plan to replace the Ala Wai course with a municipal course elsewhere.

Yoshimura said he and colleagues will soon introduce a resolution that would have the city take the first steps toward designating the site with a public golf symbol on city plans, the precursor to condemnation proceedings.

The 163-acre site was purchased by Liongain Hawaii Inc. in May for $11.5 million from Royal Oahu Resort Inc., the original owner.

The course has remained idle since it was built in 1994 because its owners must still make good on about $13 million of $25 million in community impact fees promised to the city.

It's unclear whether Liongain has made any strides toward opening.

Aaron Yoo, an attorney for Liongain, declined to comment, and his brother, Alexander Yoo, who is listed as the only local director for Liongain, could not be reached for comment.

Even if the company were to come up with $13 million, Yoshimura said, the course lacks a clubhouse, carts and other amenities that would be necessary before it could open.

This isn't the first time Council members have tried to find a way to open the course, which, Yoshimura said, is considered by many as among the best ever built on Oahu.

In September 1999, then-Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim led four colleagues in introducing a resolution that called for the city to condemn the golf course and open it for public play. That resolution was later shelved.

This past January, Councilwoman Rene Mansho introduced a resolution allowing the landowner "temporary relief" from certain obligations. That measure has yet to be heard by the Council. Yoshimura said previous efforts to move on the golf course may have failed partly because of litigation between the landowners and its lenders but that the time may now be right with a clear owner.

Mayor Jeremy Harris said last night that he would endorse buying Royal Kunia at a fair price. "And if the governor is going to move ahead and decommission the Ala Wai, (Royal Kunia) would provide at least some of the capacity that we need to make up for that lost capacity."

Kim Murakawa, Cayetano's press secretary, said she could not comment on whether Royal Kunia is one of the sites being eyed by the governor as a replacement course for Ala Wai.

City & County of Honolulu

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