Part of Kaanapali resort opens

The Maui News | February 6, 2009

By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer

Intrawest’s second tower of new Honua Kai slated for 2010

KAANAPALI – Intrawest opened phase one of its new Kaanapali resort Honua Kai this week.

Walking the grounds, General Manager Ed Sowers remarked that he had capped his career by working Kaanapali from end to end – opening the Hyatt Regency in 1980, and the Honua Kai now.

Plenty has changed over three decades. Most notably, Honua Kai is a condo-hotel. Buyers purchase the units, and can live in them themselves or put them under resort management.

That doesn’t mean it’s a time share. Owners who rent their units get the revenue from the rental of that particular unit, not a fraction of the overall income, like they would at a time share.

There was a waiting list to buy when phase one, the 318-unit Hokulani condo tower, was offered in December 2005. Developer Intrawest bragged at the time that $425 million in sales were rung up in a day, four times more than the Canadian company’s previous biggest introduction. Prices ranged from $500,000 for a studio to $4.5 million for a three-bedroom suite.

Developing a beach resort was also a new experience for Intrawest, which started out as a ski resort and morphed into a developer of luxury resort villages, still mostly in mountain areas.

Sowers says about 70 percent of Hokulani buyers have chosen to rent out their units. That is about what Intrawest expected. Sowers says some buyers probably are aiming to live full time at the resort when they reach retirement, meanwhile letting tourists help pay the mortgage.

The second, similar condo tower, Konea, is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2010. Phase three, 72 townhouses, is “on hold” until the amenities, including a seafront restaurant with Pacific’O executive chef James McDonald in charge, is finished, as well as the grounds.

The grounds are something new for Kaanapali, as a result of an intervention the West Maui Preservation Association during special management area hearings. The developers were required to leave a 150-foot-wide setback untouched along four lots at North Beach (Kekaa), except for a boardwalk.

The setback leaves the protective dune intact. The wild vegetation at what used to be Airport Beach has largely been removed, including invasive red mangroves. This leaves Molokai as the only place in the state with the alien mangroves, says Sowers.

Sea Engineering was contracted to revegetate the dunes and foreshore, mostly with native plants. Consultant Mark Ericsson said this was one of the easier projects the firm has had, since the dune was preserved.

Besides mangroves, kiawe were removed, replaced with plants such as beach morning glory, good at holding down the sand. Morning glory also “does a good job of keeping people from walking through,” Ericsson says.

A limited number of decked entrances to the beach are designed to take pressure off the dune and its plants.

The foreshore is designed to remain “active,” that is, the seasonal advance and retreat of the sand can proceed at its own pace. The boardwalk is movable.

“It’s been a joy to work on a project like this,” says Ericsson, because the terrain was closer to its natural condition.

The intervention also produced a public park along the north boundary of the resort, with parking, a restroom, barbecues and, eventually, a 2-acre grassy area for kids to run around in.

At the Aina restaurant, McDonald says the “100-mile concept,” emphasizing products grown within a 100-mile radius, will be used as much as possible for acquiring foodstuffs. Local products such as eggs, Maui Cattle Co. beef and lettuce from McDonald’s O’o Farm will be featured.

The design of the resort is by WCIT Architects.

Eric Gerlach, the Intrawest vice president who is managing construction, says work proceeded without anything other than routine problems, and since Konea is so similar to Hokulani, he anticipates finishing the second tower ahead of schedule.

All has not been perfectly smooth, however. A dozen purchasers at Honua Kai have sued to overturn their sales contracts and receive refunds for payments they made. The suits, which began to be filed in December, are in the early stages of discovery in 2nd Circuit Court.

* Harry Eagar can be reached at