City Parks Director Michele Nekota said Thursday she has made a one-time exemption to allow the National Football League to serve alcohol  in a private tent closed off to the public at a Pro Bowl event this weekend at Queen’s Beach.

But on Friday, it became clear that the private area to be used by the NFL for its party also extends out about 36 feet onto the sandy portion of the beach.

The public now will be blocked Friday and Saturday from using about 2,800 square feet of the beach that has been roped off and covered with 20 lounge chairs for the use of the NFL’s VIP sponsors and their guests. This is an area where the public normally is allowed to pass freely.

Event planners for the Pro Bowl beach activities earlier had said the public would not be blocked off from the beach.

The Friday morning scene: Not only does the party venue block the grassy part of Queen’s Beach; it extends all the way to the beach itself. Marketers for the NFL had promised the public would not be blocked off from the beach.
The Friday morning scene: Not only does the party venue block the grassy part of Queen’s Beach; it extends all the way to the beach itself. Marketers for the NFL had promised the public would not be blocked off from the beach. Denby Fawcett

“This is bad upon bad,” said Alethea Rebman of the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society. “It is the Pro Bowl Beach now. The NFL has bought and paid for its own sandy beach.”

Rebman called the NFL’s earlier pitch for the event to the city “deceitful” for not making clear the public would lose part of the sandy beach to the event.

At a Jan. 8 hearing, critics including Rebman asked the city to continue to forbid private alcohol-serving events on public park and beach lands.

Rebman said Thursday the city’s decision to allow the NFL to go ahead with its private cocktail party sets a precedent for other private alcohol-serving events in the parks.

Under current city law, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited in city parks and beaches.

Andrew Pereira, a spokesman for the city, said in an email Friday that no alcohol will be allowed on the beach and that liquor service is restricted to the VIP tent. That’s being enforced by Honolulu police and private security.

Still, Rebman says such events block the public from using the beach and are “pure special interest.”

“It does seem like the Pro Bowl may have already been promised this by the city,” says Rebman. “It just seems fishy. “

The non-profit SHAKA Foundation made an application to the Liquor Commission on Wednesday on behalf of the NFL for a liquor permit for the VIP party. The permit was granted a little over 24 hours later. When a non-profit applies for such a permit, the organization does not have to go before the Liquor Commission.

Part of the roped-off area for the private portion of the NFL's pre-Pro Bowl activities is beneath a tent.
Part of the roped-off area for the private portion of the NFL’s pre-Pro Bowl activities is beneath a tent. Denby Fawcett

George West, Chairman of the Diamond Head/Kapahulu/ St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board 5, says, “I don’t favor the NFL getting special treatment.  The door has been opened. Who is to stop the next group coming forward when it wants a similar permit?”

West says he realizes this was probably a way out for the city to appease the NFL, but he doesn’t like the way it’s being handled.

Parks Director Nekota says even though the Parks Department is granting the NFL this one-time exemption, it has rejected a request for a rule change by the NFL and other event organizers to allow liquor service up to four times a year at private events at Queen’s Beach and possibly at other public parks and beaches.

At the Jan. 8 hearing, Rebman and 16 others testified against the proposed rule change to allow four such events a year. After the hearing 34 additional testimonies were sent to the city to criticize the proposed changes.

Parks Director Nekota said Thursday in her release that the Parks Department “found valid comments on both sides,” but that “after reviewing all the testimony, DPR has decided not to go forward with the rules as drafted at this time.”

Nekota says the one-time exception is being made for the NFL because city law allows the alcohol to be served in parks if a liquor permit and other required governmental permits are obtained.

She says the NFL has acquired a Facilities Use Permit from the Department of Parks and Recreation and can go ahead with alcohol service with its required permit from the Liquor Commission.

The NFL will have the private party to serve wine, beer and mai tais to Pro Bowl sponsors and their guests. The league is hosting two days of private VIP parties as part of its much bigger beach event open for free to the public at Queen’s Beach from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Event organizers say the Pro Bowl beach event is expected to draw 10,000 people a day before the Pro Bowl game at Aloha Stadium on Sunday.

The NFL is offering the beach event this year instead of the usual block party along Kalakaua Avenue that it has hosted for the public before the Pro Bowl in years past.

At the Jan. 8 hearing, marketing specialist Ed Nishioka told reporters, “To put things in perspective, the rules change would allow for a secured hospitality area that would have hundreds of people in it versus tens of thousands of residents and visitors that come to enjoy the Pro Bowl Experience.”

Nishioka is an owner of DNA Communications, a marketing company that’s helping the NFL launch the beach event.

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