When the team redeveloping Lanai was looking for a comparison for the kind of low-key but luxurious bungalows they want to build, they gave an example everyone could envision: Kona Village on the Big Island.
Or rather, Kona Village two years ago.
Since it was smashed by the
waves that hit the Big Island in March 2011 after the Japan earthquake, Kona Village has been closed, its surviving hales dark and empty. After an early burst of information from the ownership group headed by computer magnate Michael Dell, there has been silence. Go to the official konavillage.com website and click on "current status" and there is a statement last updated in May 2011.
"Getting solid information is really tough, since Kona Village Resort management is pretty tight-lipped," said Joe Trent, who runs the website konafriends.com. "At this point it does look like they're going to reopen someday."
"Someday" is about as exact as it gets. Even a basic timeline for cleanup and repair remains elusive.
"We have begun the repair of the tsunami damage, and as the first phase of that work started the infrastructure work. … We do not have any targeted opening date at this time," Patrick Fitzgerald, chief executive of Hualalai Resort, wrote in an email. "Understand the desire for more info - we hopefully will be finalizing our plans in the next 2-3 months."
In September 2011, Fitzgerald said it would take 12 to 18 months of construction before Kona Village could open. And that was only after the insurance assessment and reconstruction plans and permits were worked out. The earliest target date would be the second half of 2013.
Unless work has progressed beyond what Dell's group wants to report, a reopening this year appears doubtful.
The question is not if the valuable property will host guests again, but whether it will look and feel like Kona Village or be buffed and built up into a cousin of the golf resort next door, the Four Seasons Hualalai. Both are owned by Dell and his associates.
Fitzgerald said in 2011 that Kona Village would not become an adjunct of the Four Seasons, but that reality dictated changes to the layout and construction. The tsunami exposed the danger to the low-lying areas along Kahuwai Bay and the lagoon behind it. The electrical and plumbing plan was archaic, befitting a resort that expanded haphazardly over a 46-year period.
While spelling out some of the problems, Dell and his people have been mum about their cures. Not even a hint of plans has surfaced in the Big Island media.
If absorbed into the Four Seasons, it would be the final chapter in a nearly half-century long, slow-motion invasion of Kona Village's once remote corner of the Big Island. When the resort opened in 1965, its nearest neighbor was the equally new Mauna Kea Beach Hotel several miles up the coast. The gap filled in over the decades, but it wasn't until 1996 that Kona Village got a next-door neighbor. The Four Seasons Hualalai opened that year, receiving top rankings in travel magazine polls. It was the antithesis of Kona Village: graceful and slick, ultra-modern and ostentatiously luxurious. The golf resort added luxury homes around its perimeter. Dell bought the Hualalai in 2006, then purchased Kona Village from Beanie Baby mogul Ty Warner in 2007.
Even before the tsunami, there were rumblings that Dell and his team wanted to make changes to Kona Village. They questioned the future market of a resort that kept electronics to a minimum and counted on trade winds instead of air conditioning to cool guests spending several hundred dollars a night. Hales had no TV or DSL connections. The atmosphere was summed up by the "do not disturb" sign - a painted coconut guests placed at the foot of the door.
Fiercely loyal fans of the resort rallied to its defense in 2011, starting a Facebook page, SaveKonaVillage. But in the absence of solid news, the site has become a frequently melancholy spot to recall the glory of past visits. It often reads like a requiem instead of a call to action.
Barring Dell's wall of silence springing a leak beforehand, the outlines of Kona Village's future will have to wait past the tsunami anniversary to perhaps summer.
Gary A. Warner: