Kona Village slow to reopen after tsunami


Twenty months after Kona Village Resort closed due to damage from the March 2011 tsunami, management has been mostly mute about whether it would reopen the popular resort.

Earlier this year, however, CEO Pat Fitzgerald told Travel Weekly that his plan was to reopen “by the end of 2013.”

“Is that possible? Yes,” he said. “If we started work soon we might be able to make the end of next year.

“It’s going to be hard, but we certainly want to open as soon as possible.”

Fitzgerald also told the publication that the hotel, known for his quaint thatched-roof bungalows and simplified version of luxury, suffered more than $20 million in damage.

As many as 20 of the resort’s 125 bungalows sustained major damage. Some were pushed dozens of feet inland.

More than 200 employees lost their jobs, though some were hired at other hotels owned by Four Seasons, the resort’s parent company.

The San Francisco Chronicle, in an Oct. 8 article, also wrote that Fitzgerald planned to announce some good news in the “next few months.”

Fitzgerald canceled an interview with the Tribune-Herald on Oct. 24, and hasn’t been responsive to additional requests for comment.

The resort received a “grubbing permit” for removing shrubs and other vegetation in late October or early November, said April Surprenant, Hawaii County’s long-range planning manager.

“They are doing some maintenance right now,” she said.

“As far as I know, they are still looking to … rebuild or re-establish from the damage from the tsunami,” Surprenant said. “We currently don’t have a permit before us to show what they are actually planning.”

George Applegate, Big Island Visitor Bureau executive director, said he has only heard rumors about the resort reopening.

“I’m still waiting to” hear, he said. “I think it would be fantastic.”

The 47-year-old resort hasn’t been issued any building, electrical or plumbing permits since the tsunami, according to the county’s online records.

Its sister resort, The Four Seasons Hualalai Resort, damaged but not closed by the March 2011 inundation, has been issued 21 permits for tsunami-related repairs.

Bill Partmann believes there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The 61-year-old Sacramento attorney, who helps run the Save Kona Village fan page on Facebook, said signs remain positive.

“Last I heard, they were waiting for one more (insurance) check,” he said last month. “Based on my sources, they are very close to completing the insurance negotiations.”

Partmann, like many of those who visit the resort, was a return guest who fell in love with its “barefoot luxury.”

He said he and his wife had been there 12 times in nine years.

“I found that there seemed to be a perfect combination of nature and comfort,” Partmann said.

So far, the fan page has generated 3,058 likes.

Partmann said that highlights the resort’s popularity among guests, some of whom also have become close with its staff.

“The employees … they become your friends,” he said. “You come to know these people as people rather than servers.”

That connection continued after the closure.

Partmann said former guests raised $12,000 for the former employees over three months through the fan page.