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‘Most Hawaiian hotel’ gets makeover: KBH to undergo $65M ‘renewal’

Beachfront restaurant, more parking on tap

The Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel will undergo a $65 million “renewal” or renovation project this spring. The Kaua’i wing on the left of this photo will receive upgrades. A new restaurant, Huihui, will be constructed near the beach. The Tiki Terrace and Tiki Bar & Grill structures, as seen with the stage in the photo, will be taken down when the Huihui restaurant is up and running in December. Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel photo

The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel will undergo a $65 million “property enhancement project” this spring that will include a new beachfront restaurant, redesign of its 180-room Kauai wing and an additional floor of parking.

The project, dubbed a “renewal,” is expected be completed by Christmas and will not create additional hotel rooms. The new restaurant, “Huihui,” or the “the gathering place,” will become the main eatery, as the Tiki Bar and Grill, along with the Tiki Terrace restaurant, which have been around for more than 30 years, will close when Huihui opens in December.

The work will also include a refresh of the hotel’s courtyard.

“There is no significant increase in floor space,” General Manager Mike White said of the project, which is called “Kealaula” to signify both the light of early sunrise and the glow of a sunset.

The cyclical event describes the project, which looks at what was established and experienced in the past and will now be “renewed” as the property transforms, White said.

The hotel secured a special management area permit for the restaurant more than 10 years ago. The plans have also received time extensions over the years.

An SMA is still needed for the parking addition, White said. The renovations do not need a SMA, as no additional rooms will be added, he said.

White said the actual construction work on the restaurant took a while to come to fruition, as the owners felt that combining the restaurant with other hotel upgrades was the best way to minimize the impact.

The hotel will remain open as the Kauai wing closes for work in April, with the hotel’s smaller Lanai, Maui and Molokai wings available for bookings.

White acknowledged island- and statewide attempts to move toward managing tourism versus increasing visitor counts and adding hotel rooms.

But White said the hotel is not taking advantage of the zoning the resort area offers, which would allow the hotel, by law, to expand to 12 stories. Three of the hotel wings are six stories and one is three stories. In total there are 432 rooms.

“We are not at all making out what we could do,” White said.

But he added that the owners “recognize they need to upgrade the hotel to remain competitive,” not only on Maui but across the world.

“We have to upgrade,” he said.

Last year, a proposal to add 151 rooms — scaled back from original plans to add 224 rooms — to the Grand Wailea Maui and a plan to develop the 200-room Windward Hotel in Kahului were not well received, with community members asking for affordable housing and control over the visitor population instead of expansions.

As the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel nears the beginning of its project, White said guest feedback has been positive.

“Our visitors for many years have been asking us to update the property. A lot of them are finally getting their wish,” he said.

The hotel, initially built in 1964, has been conducting upgrades over the years. Its current owners are from the Shaw organization in Hong Kong, White said.

On the current project, the hotel staff and cultural practitioners are working with Honolulu-based FSC Architects, Philpotts Interiors and PBR Hawaii and Associates.

White also said that Ka’anapali Beach has long played a part in managing tourism with education.

The hotel has a long running Po’okela program — meaning “excellence” — where employees learn about the Hawaiian culture and implement it into their work.

Employees also teach classes to guests, including hula, Hawaiian language, ethnobotany and the ocean’s role in Hawaiian life. The hotel employs practitioners who actively practice the culture, such as those who have sailed on Hokule’a.

Education of visitors will also get a boost from the renovations, as Huihui restaurant will double as a dining experience and a structure for its canoe program, along with a new sailing academy. The facility will be 5,000 square feet.

“The restaurant is built around a theme of accomplishment of Hawaiian wayfinding and navigation and basically the Hawaiians’ relationship with the sea,” White said.

The hotel recently bought a Hawaiian sailing canoe to incorporate into the program. The hotel already has other smaller canoes.

Huihui will be 85 feet from the shoreline, closer than the current Tiki Terrace restaurant.

Both Tiki Terrace and Tiki Bar and Grill will remain open throughout the construction process until Huihui launches in December. The hotel will also continue its Sunday champagne brunch as renovations take place.

Whether the brunch will continue once the new restaurant opens will be determined later, White said.

Tiki Terrace’s outdoor stage and other structures in the area will be eliminated, which will open up the view to the ocean that is currently blocked.

With the renovations, guests will see the islands of Lanai and Molokai and Pu’u Keka’a, or Black Rock, White said.

The improvements will also reduce the number of current outdoor seating.

Even with the loss of 180 rooms during the renovations, White said the hotel owners will keep all 285 employees on staff.

“It is really exciting that our owners appreciate the dedication of our ohana and honor them with this commitment to keep them financially secure during the renewal. As you can imagine, many of them have invested many years of their lives here,” White said.

White has spent 35 years as general manager at the hotel. He held the hotel job while also serving as council member, then chairman of the Maui County Council. He retired from the council in 2018.

White said that while the hotel isn’t the fanciest on Maui, its pride is its employees, some of whom have more than 50 years at the hotel.

“Our employees truly are the reason why our guests come back year after year,” he said. “They establish a relationship with them. They write letters to each other, communicate via email.”

Employees who may be affected by the renovations of the Kauai wing will assist with the upgrade work, whether it be moving furniture or preparing and putting up the Hawaiian crafts that the employees have made during the Makahiki program. Some of the craft work includes traditional fishhooks and paddles.

With the 180 rooms out of commission and with fewer guests, White said the hotel will work on adding another floor of parking, increasing the structure from three to four floors.

On the roof of the fourth floor will be photovoltaic panels.

The additional floor will add about 100 new parking spaces to the current 450 spaces.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.