The Public Land Development Corporation could help resolve the longstanding morass over what to do with the Waikiki Natatorium.

That comes from Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who spoke to Civil Beat and KITV Tuesday in executive chambers following a media event.

The governor this week fought back against critics of the controversial PLDC, which was created by the Hawaii Legislature only last year but has come under harsh criticism recently from groups already calling for its repeal.

Though the agency has yet to begin work on a project to make better use of government lands, environmental, labor and Native Hawaiian groups argue the PLDC has too much flexibility to bypass important laws intended to protect the state’s natural assets.

On Tuesday, Abercrombie reiterated that the agency could help with projects that have broad support such as workforce housing, new schools and assisted-living facilities.

He also named a specific project — the Waikiki Natatorium, a swimming pool on the coast near Diamond Head that has been closed to the public since 1979.

“The natatorium is a good example — very good example,” said the governor. “The natatorium has deteriorated steadily now for decades, and every time somebody comes up with an idea — right? — there appears to be again the idea that you have suspicions and people rush in and they shoot down those particular ideas, and then when they go away everybody leaves. And it continues to deteriorate.”

Paddling the Canoe

As Civil Beat has reported, the state is looking into taking over control of the dilapidated structure from the City and County of Honolulu.

What to do with the natatorium, which was opened in 1927 as a memorial to World War I servicemen from Hawaii, has been discussed for as long as its been closed. Fix and reopen the pool, say some; tear it down and expand the beach, say others.

The latest idea gaining favor is to turn it into a venue for beach volleyball, an idea Abercrombie has said he is interested in. Whatever is to be done with the aging structure, however, the governor said he is determined to resolve the issue once and for all.

“I’m going to move on the natatorium. Believe me, I’m going to move on the natatorium,” he said Tuesday. “But we got to take a look at what the possibilities are but (how) it never comes to fruition. When I get an idea, we’ll see how that works out.”

In the meantime, Abercrombie said, he hoped that the anger that has risen over the PLDC might subside.

“What’d I’d like is, why don’t we tone down the rhetoric a little?” he said. “And why don’t we expand the idea that we’re all in this together in our islands, right? I mentioned before about how we are in a canoe and we need to paddle together.”

The governor again encouraged people to consider the positive aspects of the PLDC.

“Rather than look at that negative side and look at what could possibly go wrong, why don’t we take a look at what could possibly go right and how can we make a positive approach to it?” he argued. “I think we ought to see what the actual projects are before we condemn something out of hand when we really don’t know what we’re talking about yet. People are always more afraid of what they don’t know.”

And, he reminded people that the PLDC was approved by the Legislature and is now state law — Act 55 — a law he said he is “honor-bound” to implement.

Ultimately, though, it is up to government to decide how to implement laws. He offered an analogy between Act 55 and the U.S. Constitution:

“The Constitution does not guarantee good government. Act 55 does not guarantee that there will be absolutely perfect public projects. What it does guarantee is the opportunity to have good government or to have good projects. It depends on the talent in the room.”

The governor also asked for public input about what projects the PLDC could work on.

“What I’m asking the public right now, let us know what projects you’d like to have,” he said. “If you’ve got some ideas out there, and you don’t think anybody’s paying attention, I’ll pay attention. Our directors will pay attention. The people appointed by the Legislature will pay attention. … Rather than suspicions, let’s hear about proposals. Rather than negativity, let’s hear from you positive things you’d like to accomplish.”

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