Story and photographs by Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor
The lobby still smells like fresh paint and some cosmetic finishing touches still have to made, but King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel has its sparkle back.
Employees, managers and community guests got a look at the new meeting rooms, restaurant and guest rooms Wednesday after a traditional blessing ceremony.
The renovations took $35 million and two years – and marked the most significant upgrades since the hotel overlooking Kailua Bay in the heart of Kona opened in 1976.
Matt Marquis, president of hotel owners Pacifica Hotel Company, untied the mail lei and relaunched the hotel. Pacifica is known for purchasing and restoring hotel properties, while retaining the local feel and style.
“This has really been a labor of love. The hotel was in tough shape.” he said. “It’s a fine balance because the grounds here are so sacred. For us to really do it justice, we had to keep the old Hawaii feel but modernize it while still capturing the true sense of the Big Island.”
Guests will be treated to upgraded and newly outfitted rooms and public areas, but improvements also have been made to back-of-the-house facilities including fire systems, safety features, energy-efficiency, plumbing and employee areas.
All 452 rooms, including five oceanfront one-bedroom suites, have been completely re-done. Everything is brand new. Contemporary in feel, island in vibe, soft good patterns mirror nostalgic Kona – with burnt red, brown, and celadon green hues and coffee motifs to celebrate Kona’s coffee history.
Hardwood furnishings are enhanced with embossed Polynesian tattoo patterns. And subtle hints of the colors and texture of lava complement the overall design. Spacious bathrooms have brand new bathtubs, sinks, furniture and fixtures. New in-room amenities include Bath & Body Works bath products, iron/ironing board, flat screen television, coffee (and coffee makers), complimentary wireless Internet, and new mini refrigerators.
Marquis said the hotel will continue to be a gathering place for the local community, as well as visitors.
A new infinity-edged pool with Billfish Bar, lava-rock whirlpool with very cool underwater red lights, a renovated dining room also greet guests. More than a dozen retail shops are expect to fill out the gallery, including an expanded ABC Store.
The first phase included the West Tower and some public areas, followed by the East Tower and dining facilities. The hotel remained open during the project.
“We’ll make this the place to be, the real hub of Kona,” Marquis said. “Local patronage is so important to us. We really want to be part of the community.”
Marquis praised the management and 180 staff members, who had endured complaints about the state of the property for several years before the renovations.
“They’ve been through the tough times here and now they get to reap the rewards,” he said. “I can tell you they are ecstatic.”
General Manager Jak Hu already is looking to the future. He has a two-year plan to turn the hotel’s fortunes around, after more than a decade of losing money.
“Everybody has been waiting for this day. The community and employees have been very patient, but now it’s time to maximize our opportunity,” he said. “We’re looking to bring the pride back to the hotel and the staff. Now that work is done, it’s up to us to do the best job ever.”
Hu has been at the King Kam, as it is known locally, for five years, which is the longest stint in his career.
Human Resources Manager Beverly Young is one of a handful of staff who have been aboard since the hotel opened its doors in 1976.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said. “I’ve seen this hotel from the inside for so long, but this day ranks pretty high up there.”
Young said she is impressed with the new look and eager to show it off to the community.
“It’s amazing. They did a great job. The rooms are wonderful and the lobby turned out really nice,” she said. “There are so many old timers in the community who have had to watch it go down and down. I’m sure they’ll all come back to check it out.”
Although much of Wednesday’s focus was on the new, the renovation project also paid respect to Hawaii’s rich history.
Just outside the dining room window on the edge of Kamakahonu Bay is Ahuena Heiau, Kamehameha the Great’s personal and final residence, and the center of political power in the Hawaiian Kingdom. Kamehameha used this site as a gathering place for his kahuna (priests) and advisors to counsel and guide both he and his successor, Kamehameha II (Liholiho).
The heiau is a National Historic Landmark and was last restored in 1999. Toward the end of 2008, Ahuena Heiau Inc. began a project to restore the roof of Hale Mana, one of the buildings at Kamakahonu. The completion of this project is slated for the end of May.
Several original portrait paintings of Hawaiian royalty that have graced the lobby of the hotel for decades, a treasured feather cape ahuula, feathered helmet mahiole, feather lei, war weapons, and lei niho palaoa (whale or walrus tooth necklace, usually made with human hair and worn only by royalty) are being restored as well.
And, an original oil by renowned historian/artist Herb Kawainui Kane that depicts Kamehameha I, his family, and advisors at Kamakahonu, is being restored by the artist himself.
— Find out more:
King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel: 329-2911, www.konabeachhotel.com