Ala Moana Regional Park might be home to a 1-acre playground with six mini-zip lines, fountains and a snack concession if a local nonprofit group of developers and parents is able to raise enough money for the project.

The fenced-in playground would be free, open to the public and maintained by the city, but money for construction would come entirely from private donations, according to Alana Pakkala, who has been working with city officials on the project for more than two years.

“This isn’t a neighborhood park, this is a destination park for the whole island,” she said.

The nonprofit Paani Kakou formed to build a one-acre park in Ala Moana Regional Park. Courtesy of Paani Kakou

The playground would be behind the L&L Hawaiian BBQ concession near the pond currently at the park.

A nonprofit called Paani Kakou, the Hawaiian phrase for “to play together,” is being formed to oversee the playground’s construction. The nonprofit would have the right to make repairs if the city can’t do so in a timely manner, Pakkala said.

Pakkala is also the COO of The Kobayashi Group, a local development firm that partnered with The MacNaughton Group to develop the luxury condominium project Park Lane across the street from Ala Moana Regional Park. Ian MacNaughton of the MacNaughton Group is also working on the playground. Pakkala said she, MacNaughton and others involved on the project are volunteering their time.  

Ala Moana Regional Park doesn’t currently have a playground for kids. Courtesy of Paani Kakou

Nathan Serota, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the playground is an example of a public-private partnership the city wants to replicate at other parks.

The price tag on the initial design was $2.5 million but the nonprofit has since redesigned the playground with input from kids from around the island. The group hasn’t figured out how much the new design will cost, Pakkala said.

She also said she could not provide an exact figure for how much the group had raised because much of the work is done through in-kind donations. Construction is set to begin next year if the nonprofit can get the required permits, and would take six to seven months.

“It’s a bit ambitious,” Pakkala said of the project timeline.

She presented the plan to the Ala Moana-Kakaako Neighborhood Board on Tuesday night along with Tiffany Vara, Paani Kakou’s executive director, and Steve Teves, an architect working on the project pro bono.

The board passed a resolution to support the idea.

The City Council approved spending $28 million to improve Ala Moana Regional Park in the last two years.

A total of $28 million in publicly funded improvements have been approved for Ala Moana Regional Park but the playground would be built with private money. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The 119-acre park, sandwiched between popular surf breaks and Ala Moana Center, has a canoe halau, the McCoy Pavilion event space, a few food concessions and restrooms. The park has workout equipment but no playground for kids.  

The city’s original plans to remove parking stalls to create a larger walkway near the beach generated community opposition, and Serota said the city is still in the process of revising the environmental impact statement for the park.

So far, the upgrades include renovating restrooms and upgrading the irrigation lines under the park.

Paani Kakou went through a unique process to design its playground. Each of the nine Honolulu City Council members nominated two public elementary schools from their district, and the nonprofit sent a playground designer to ask students at the schools for feedback on the design ideas.

After asking kids what they wanted out of their park, Paani Kakou’s playground designer added more zip lines. Courtesy of Paani Kakou

The kids wanted more swings, monkey bars and zip lines, and fewer slides compared to the original design, Vara said. They also wanted to change the color scheme from primary to natural colors.

“Adults shouldn’t design playgrounds,” said Pakkala. 

Vara said the playground will be designed to ensure the playground is accessible to children with disabilities, with boat-shaped swings that kids who use wheelchairs could play on. In addition to men’s and women’s restrooms, she said the plan calls for a family restroom with an adult-sized changing stations.

Plans also call for an office area and restroom for park staff and police.

“Just making a convenient, comfortable space for them, we’re hoping, will encourage police presence,” Vara said.

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