Plans for the $1 billion Grand Ko Olina Resort & Spa, with an interactive aquarium adventure lagoon and shark island, were announced yesterday in the governor's office. Present were Ted Liu, left, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone; landowner and developer Takeshi Sekiguchi; Mayor Mufi Hannemann; Lt. Gov. James Aiona; and Gov. Linda Lingle.

Aquarium, resort
to crown Ko Olina

State tax credits will help fund
the $1 billion project of condos
and a Hawaiian village

Ko Olina Resort & Marina unveiled plans yesterday for a $1 billion interactive aquarium and 25-acre, 1,000-room resort, a project partially underwritten by $75 million in state tax credits.

The Grand Ko Olina Resort, Hotel & Spa will include an oceanfront hotel condominium, time shares and a Hawaiian village surrounding a swim-through lagoon and separate shark tank. The project is patterned after the lavish Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and Discovery Cove in Orlando, Fla.

Visitors to the 5 million-gallon aquarium will be able to visit an underwater dome that provides 360-degree views of sharks, swim in an interactive reef and visit a beach lagoon sealed from the ocean.

"The Grand Ko Olina will help re-brand Oahu as a unique resort destination, just as the Grand Wailea did for Maui," said Ko Olina developer Jeffrey Stone. "It will boost West Oahu's prominence in the visitor industry and add a one-of-a-kind icon to Hawaii that is directly connected to Hawaii's unique ocean environment and culture."

The resort already includes the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa, time shares and a golf course.

The state's rebounding economy and visitor industry have fueled growth in the resort and in the population of West Oahu, which grew 89 percent from 1990 to 2000.

It has also brought about the return of one of Ko Olina's original developers, Takeshi Sekiguchi, who is best known for developing the Grand Wailea and the Four Seasons Wailea resorts on Maui.

"My decision to re-enter Hawaii's market was based on the economic recovery of the Japanese economy and the forecast of increased eastbound travel from Asia," said Sekiguchi, who owns the land for the development. "I believe the Grand Ko Olina will serve as a major destination for this revitalized market."

A model of the aquarium lagoon and shark island.

Project partners have not been announced, but Sekiguchi said Grand Ko Olina will convince investors from Japan and other Asian countries to pump more money into Hawaii projects. The development is likely to break ground this year, with major hotel partners expected to be announced this summer, Stone said. No timetable has been set for completion.

"We are absolutely certain that we have attracted the players who are committed to this project," he said.

Ko Olina's recovery and expansion will create business opportunities, jobs and tourism, said Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

"It brings together the best in our economy," Liu said, referring to the resort's marriage of tourism and marine science technology.

Developers said Grand Ko Olina is expected to add 1,000 jobs, ranging from resort and aquarium operations to marine science research, and Hawaiian culture educational opportunities.

"This resort is exactly what the state needs in terms of diversifying the economy and creating good-quality jobs," said Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who pledged that the expansion of the Waimanalo Gulch landfill would not interfere with development and that it would close in 2008.

The state also assisted the development. Last summer, lawmakers approved a 10-year, $75 million tax credit for the aquarium. Lingle approved the bill but required the resort to spend $2.5 million for job training in the Leeward Coast.

Grand Ko Olina will enlist the expertise of professors from the University of Hawaii's Ocean Science Department and the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association and will share some exhibits with the Waikiki Aquarium, Stone said.

Ko Olina's aquarium is not expected to hurt business at the Waikiki Aquarium, which caters to a large share of walk-ins from Waikiki hotels, aquarium Director Andrew Rossiter said during an interview last spring.

"I don't think it will impact the Waikiki Aquarium, because the objectives and audiences are different," Rossiter said.

Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone, right, and Takeshi Sekiguchi, landowner and an original developer of Ko Olina Resort, looked over a model of the planned $1 billion Grand Ko Olina Resort & Spa yesterday in the governor's office.

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