A Walk in the Park? Why So Many Major Events Are Leaving Kapi‘olani Regional Park

Kapi‘olani Regional Park is somewhat of an anomaly: It is managed by the city but governed by a trust.
Okinawan Festival at Kapi‘iolani Park
The Okinawan Festival moved from its longtime home at Kapi‘olani Park to the Hawai‘i Convention Center last year.


Over the past two years, two ethnic festivals have pulled out of the park, citing challenges with its commercial activity rules. So, what are the specific regulations at Kapi‘olani? That’s where it gets tricky.


Dating back to 1896, the Kapi‘olani Park Trust ensures that the park is kept open and free to the public. Although the city does not officially have a different set of rules for the park, there are other factors that come into play because of the trust, leading to an “unofficial policy” handled on a case-by-case basis, says Alethea Rebman, president of the watchdog group Kapi‘olani Park Preservation Society, which serves as the trust’s gatekeepers. She says commercial activity banned at the park includes selling goods unrelated to a cultural festival or other related business ventures. The city Parks Department says the permit application process for events is the same for Kapi‘olani as other parks, but acknowledges that “terms and conditions will be determined per event.”


SEE ALSO: How 5 Popular Ethnic Festivals in Honolulu Adapt While Keeping Traditions Alive


Rebman, an attorney, says she has fielded concerns from event organizers about the fuzzy regulations, which is why the group has advocated for a separate set of rules and for a different agency to oversee the park. The nonprofit also recommends forming a new trustee board of community members, Police Department advisers and city and state representatives. (Current trustees are City Council members.)


“The city is allowed to set the regulations, [but] whether the regulations fit with the trust instructions is another matter,” she says. “It leaves things like the ethnic festivals in limbo. They may be leaving because they don’t have clear rules, but that’s certainly not our intent.”