Disney plans Hawaii resort hotel

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HONOLULU -- Disney plans to build a family resort in Hawaii, but it won't be an island Disneyland.

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts announced Wednesday it has bought 21 acres of oceanfront property on the western side of Oahu that it will use to build an 800-room hotel complex.

The resort, Disney's first without a nearby theme park, will emphasize family-centered vacations while respecting Hawaii's culture, said chairman Jay Rasulo.

"It will give our guests another way to visit a place that they've loved for many years," Rasulo said. "As the crossroads of Asia, it is your diverse culture that makes this place so special."

Disney spent $144 million to buy the land at the Ko Olina development, near the existing J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa. The planned Disney complex is being called the Ko Olina Family Resort.

Disney has several themed resort hotels near Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida, but has never built a hotel resort that will stand on its own. Hawaii has no full-scale amusement park.

Construction on the resort is expected to begin next year, with opening set for 2011.

Rasulo said there were no plans to expand the resort into a theme park.

"This decision and project really enhances our state's reputation as a family destination," said Gov. Linda Lingle. "That's what we are, and the Disney name brings that to everyone's mind, front and center."

The hotel complex is expected to create 1,000 jobs along the island's Leeward coast, an area known as much for its homelessness as for its breezy beaches.

The resort's designs and amenities won't be finalized until early 2008, but Rasulo said it will include many educational and cultural activities, including local entertainers and hula dancers.

"When our families go home, they will know much more about Hawaii," Rasulo said. "To call it a hotel would be a vast understatement of what we're trying to achieve."

Some of the resort's units will be set aside as timeshares for use by the Disney Vacation Club, whose members ranked Hawaii as one of the top family destinations in the world. The club has eight resorts and more than 350,000 members.

"What we truly have in common is a sense that family is what's important," Lingle said. "This coming together is in both of our interests."

The resort complex will not receive any tax breaks from the state, such as the $75 million in unused credits allocated for the construction of an aquarium at the Ko Olina site.

Although this will be Disney's first resort development in Hawaii, the company has ties with the islands dating back to the 1937 animated Mickey Mouse short titled "Hawaiian Holiday."

The Walt Disney Company also does film work in Hawaii, including production of ABC's "Lost" series. Disney produced the movie "Pearl Harbor," filmed largely in the islands.

Some of the more recently popular Disney characters, from the Kauai-based movie and video series "Lilo & Stitch," were on hand for the announcement.

"Bringing Walt Disney Company here is the perfect fit. They're going to bring a real sense of community to this resort," said Ko Olina master developer Jeff Stone.
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