A playground proposed for Ala Moana Regional Park that received passionate and prolonged public opposition may not be built in the “people’s park” after all.

The backers of the project are now planning to build the playground less than a mile away at Kakaako Gateway Park, which is near the Children’s Discovery Center.

“We agree that we are going to remove our efforts at the playground at Ala Moana,” said Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, a board member of Paani Kakou, the nonprofit funding the playground.

The playground was originally designed for a one-acre area near the entrance to Magic Island. Denby Fawcett/ Civil Beat

The decision came after Paani Kakou leaders met with community members who opposed the Ala Moana location. They settled on a compromise, Pakkala said. A bathroom that is accessible to people with special needs will be added to an existing bathroom at Ala Moana, and the playground funders will refocus their attention to Kakaako.

“We all agree that inclusivity is really important and that Ala Moana Park should be inclusive,” Pakkala said. “They’re supportive of this move and they want to see the playground happen. I believe we have more in common than we are in opposition.”

The move to Kakaako was long suggested by opponents but wasn’t yet possible because the land was owned by the Hawaii Community Development Authority, Pakkala said. The city took possession of the parcels in late October, she said, which created an opportunity.

The decision is a relief to people like Sharlene Chun-Lum, who testified against the project’s location at Ala Moana multiple times at Honolulu City Council meetings. 

“They listened. They heard,” Chun-Lum said. “They should be commended for that, for being willing to move it without continuing the fight. I appreciate that a lot.” 

Those who spoke against the placement of the playground said it would take up too much valuable green space and would be vulnerable to sea level rise.

There were also concerns that the playground was being gifted to the city as an amenity to Park Lane, the luxury condo complex across the street from the park. Paani Kakou’s board members have ties to Park Lane and have provided substantial financial support to the campaigns of Mayor Kirk Caldwell and council members. 

Chun-Lum said she is optimistic about the new plans.

We’re not against children’s playgrounds,” she said. “We think it can be a win-win situation.” 

But for those who wanted a playground at Ala Moana, the shift to Kakaako is a disappointment.

Paani Kakou’s playground was pitched as a place where all children could play, regardless of physical limitations. Courtesy: Paani Kakou

“I think it’s a mistake to back off of a good project because one group of society has objected,” said Sam King, an attorney and father who felt a playground could add to the fun of a family visit to the beach. 

Public sentiment was more in favor of the playground than it appeared, King said.

“The moms I know don’t have time to testify at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and the retirees do,” he said, referring to the Honolulu City Council’s schedule. “Their voice is being ignored as usual.” 

A playground in Kakaako will still be a fun destination for kids, King said.

“If we get a playground there, I’ll be happy. I’ll use it,” he said. “But Ala Moana would’ve been better.” 

Caldwell’s administration has maintained strong support for Paani Kakou’s plans at Ala Moana, even going so far as to say the opposition was fueled by childless adults who are “heartless” and “cruel.” In a statement, he said he is looking forward to learning more about the new plans at an official announcement later this week.

“I am aware of a compromise between community groups regarding the inclusive playground,” he said. “I’m pleased they have come together with a solution that seems to be supported by all the stakeholders.”

Ala Moana is still set to undergo more renovations, including sand replenishment, which will be discussed at a Special Management Area Permit meeting at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the McCoy Pavilion Auditorium at 1201 Ala Moana Boulevard.

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