Wednesday, May 30, 2001

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OHA board considers
$6 million Waimea
Falls purchase

By Pat Omandam

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs board is now considering the purchase of Waimea Falls Park after two OHA committees favored the idea.

OHA's Planning and Land committees agreed yesterday to put the purchase before the board, with the sale subject to a study and a report from board counsel.

As proposed, OHA would pay no more than $6 million for the 1,875-acre North Shore property. The agency sees the property as a unique and rare opportunity to buy a substantial land base with botanical, cultural, historical and educational significance that also has the potential for economic development.

"We would look to OHA as a much-respected and valued partner and would work to whatever ends needed," said Ralph A. Bard III, of the Stewards of Waimea Valley.

The group approached OHA six weeks ago to inform them of the condition of the cultural exhibits at the park, which they say have been put on the back burner since the park was sold five years ago.

"It would be embarrassing for any Hawaiian to look at this as any kind of exhibit of early culture," said Bard, who supports OHA's attempt to buy the property.

The City Council was to decide today whether to defer a proposed $5.2 million condemnation of the property to allow OHA time for a possible deal with the property's owner, Christian Wolffer, a New York businessman.

Wolffer put the property up for sale in August for $25 million. Waimea Falls Adventure Park was put under bankruptcy protection in April after the operator filed for Chapter 11 reorganization.

The list price for the property today is $19 million.

Five Council members have signed a resolution urging the city administration to defer acquisition of Waimea Valley until OHA has an opportunity to buy the property.

The resolution will be heard early next month.

OHA has a board meeting tomorrow, but the Waimea item will not be on the agenda until its next meeting, possibly the second week of June.

If OHA buys the property, it would have to change its investment policy to allow the substantial land purchase. OHA Policy Chairman John D. Waihee IV, who is pushing for the purchase, has postponed discussion on changing the investment policy until sometime next week.

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