By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
What’s going on at the Kona Village Resort?
Twenty months after it closed due to damage from the March 2011 tsunami, management has been mostly mute on plans for reopening the popular resort, leaving room for speculation online, including a well-trafficked fan page on Facebook.
CEO Pat Fitzgerald has made few comments to the media, though statements he made to a travel industry publication in February should give its loyal guests some hope.
Noting that insurance settlement negotiations were delaying the process, he told Travel Weekly his plan was to reopen “by the end of 2013.”
“Is that possible? Yes,” he was quoted as saying. “If we started work soon we might be able to make the end of next year.
“It’s going to be hard, but we certainly want to open as soon as possible.”
Fitzgerald also told the publication that the hotel, known for his quaint thatched-roof bungalows and simplified version of luxury, received more than $20 million in damage.
As many as 20 of the resort’s 125 bungalows suffered major damage. Some were pushed dozens of feet inland.
More than 200 employees lost their jobs, though some were hired at other hotels owned by Four Seasons, the resort’s parent company.
The San Francisco Chronicle, in an Oct. 8 article, also wrote that Fitzgerald planned to announce some good news in the “next few months.”
Fitzgerald canceled an interview with the Tribune-Herald on Oct. 24, and hasn’t been responsive to additional requests for comment.
The resort received a “grubbing permit” for removing shrubs and other vegetation in late October or early November, said April Surprenant, Hawaii County long range planning manager.
“They are doing some maintenance right now,” she said.
“As far as I know, they are still looking to … rebuild or re-establish from the damage from the tsunami,” Surprenant later added.
“We currently don’t have a permit before us to show what they are actually planning.”
George Applegate, Big Island Visitor Bureau executive director, said he has only heard rumors about the resort reopening.
“I’m still waiting to” hear, he said. “I think it would be fantastic.”
The 47-year-old resort, owned by Four Seasons, hasn’t been issued any building, electrical or plumbing permits since the tsunami, according to the county’s online records.
The Four Seasons Hualalai Resort, damaged but not closed by the tsunami, has been issued 21 permits for tsunami-related repairs.
Bill Partmann believes there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The 61-year-old Sacramento attorney, who helps run the Save Kona Village fan page on Facebook, said signs remain positive, though he notes not a lot of information has been forthcoming.
“Last I heard, they were waiting for one more (insurance) check,” he said last month. “Based on my sources, they are very close to completing the insurance negotiations.”
Partmann, like many of those who visit the resort, was a return guest who fell in love with its “barefoot luxury.”
He said he and his wife had been there 12 times in nine years.
“I found it that there seemed to be a perfect combination of nature and comforts,” Partmann said. “I would not like a big concrete bunker, no matter how nice it is.”
So far, the fan page has generated 3,058 “likes.”
Partmann said that highlights the resort’s popularity among guests, some of whom also have become close with its staff.
“The employees … they become your friends,” he said. “You become to know these people as people rather than servers.”
That connection continued after the closure.
Partmann said former guests raised $12,000 for the former employees over three months through the fan page.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.