Ala Moana park playground backers announce relocation

HONOLULU — A nonprofit group that has been working to build an inclusive playground at Ala Moana Regional Park announced Saturday that it now will focus on building the playground at Kakaako Makai Gateway Park.

The announcement was welcomed by community groups that disliked the proposed 1-acre playground at Ala Moana because it would have been out of character with the passive park and taken up open space.

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On Saturday, the nonprofit group Pa‘ani Kakou said at a news conference at Kakaako Makai that it was considering erecting the playground, which will be for all children, including those with special needs, adjacent to the Children’s Discovery Center.

Supporters, however, acknowledged that much work needs to be done before that can happen.

In addition to the Kakaako playground, the group said it plans to raise funds for a family bathroom at Ala Moana park that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The comfort station would include room for a wheelchair and two people along with an adult-sized changing table.

Plans for the playground include ADA-compliant family bathrooms, a concession operation to fund maintenance of the playground, a fence, a park ranger office, and a police comfort station. Admission will be free.

Pa ‘ani Kakou said it will raise construction funds through a public-private partnership with the city.

Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, Pa ‘ani Kakou board member, said the construction timeline for the playground hasn’t been determined, nor the cost or size of the facility.

“We just wanted to make sure to get the word out that we were shifting our attention,” she said. “Until we get into the designing and planning process, we can’t determine what is the right size for here.”

She said more discussions with formal groups and the general community are needed, but the groups opposing the playground at Ala Moana suggested the new location in Kakaako.

“We do really like it because of its proximity to the Children’s Discovery Center and that potential synergy feels really good and the topography being flat,” she said.

She said park supporters reconsidered moving the playground after the city acquired the park, which has been overrun by homeless in the past, from the state about a month ago.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at the news conference that the city was looking at ways to bring more people to the park, such as adding striping for field games.

“We are starting from scratch and this was a municipal landfill,” he said, adding that a variety of permits could be needed to build the playground.

Ron Iwami, president of the nonprofit Friends of Kewalos, which opposed the Ala Moana playground, said he was fully supportive of relocating the playground to Kakaako, where it would provide an incentive for park use and possibly encourage additional projects.

“What we don’t want is Waikiki coming here, ” he said. “This is the only place we can come already, the local people. But we know we have to activate this area, so I think it’s a good start with the playground.”

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Sharlene Chun-Lum, of Save Ala Moana Beach Park Hui, called the news a “wonderful early Christmas present for a lot of people,” and said it was refreshing that the park supporters were planning to be more open with the process at Kakaako.

She said a major concern about constructing the playground at Ala Moana was the way in which the plans moved forward, with the playground suddenly appearing in a supplemental draft environmental impact statement.

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