Well, it didn’t take long for the update. The buyer was announced today as Larry Ellison, which seems very obvious in hindsight. European magnates like Richard Branson are too far and have their islands in the Carribean already (his is named Necker Island, which is also the name of a Hawaiian island). East Coast tycoons like Donald Trump are all about New York. And Larry Ellison is the poster child for brash and flamboyant West coast Internet billionaires–Bill Gates isn’t so flashy (though like I mentioned, he was married on Lana’i), Bezos is probably too thrifty, and the rest (Page, Brin, and Zuckerberg) are still “just” paper billionaires.
Of course, the speculation is still “what will Larry do with the island.” The luxury hotels on the island are losing money, residents don’t like the idea of turning the island into a wind farm (though in an odd twist, the seller seems to be keeping the wind farm development rights), and there is no surface water to resume agriculture again.
Some of the comments on the SFgate article are fairly insightful:
- Solamie for the laughs: “Every day he looks more and more like a James Bond villain.”
- Laughing_Gravy with more laughs (and an indirect reference to Kaua’i): “Does he plan to clone dinosaurs there?”
- bustout: “About time someone kicked Castle and Cook out of Hawaii. They were historically one of the most egregious unconscionable exploiters of both the land and the people. Ellison will be a huge improvement.”
- hsailor: “Ellison may be a jerk, greedy, and an egomaniac, but he’s not a developer. Considering the possible alternatives, it could be worse.”
- Babel_on: “Better Larry Ellison than some greedy developer who needs to turn a profit. Ellison is so wealthy he can just let sit there as is and he will hardly notice the dip in his bank account. If he does develop it, it’s likely that he will do a beautiful job. He’s not a Donald Trump, vulgarian type. Quite the opposite.”
- Mike_archangel: “Well now, we certainly know where the next American Cup will be held.”
The America’s Cup comment could be prophetic. It is currently planned in San Francisco, and despite both parties benefitting from holding it there, there have been a lot of issues between Larry’s yacht racing organization and the city. And just yesterday, the pier they were rebuilding as part of the America’s Cup event went up in flames. Assuming Larry can win in San Francisco and keep the cup, Hawaii seems like an obvious candidate to host the following race. In fact, in between Lana’i and West Maui, there is a natural, protected anchorage called Lahaina Roads. Along with Maui’s upscale Ka’anapali strip, the old whaling port of Lahaina, and Larry’s new properties on Lana’i, it does seem like an ideal venue.
This story is also interesting because it shows a new era of big landowers and big money in Hawaii. The “Big 5″ companies that used to “control” Hawaii are diversifying and divesting, and apparently they are ready to sell to the new monied dynasties. A lot of those companies built their fortune on agriculture in Hawaii, but with the decline of all local crops (except coffee), it’s hard to tell how they will hang on or what new owners would do with the land. I suppose it’s the backstory of the movie The Descendents being played out in real life. Here on Kaua’i, we have Grove Farm owned by Steve Case, retired CEO of AOL. Despite his ties to Hawaii, he has been a gung-ho developer, though perhaps not as bad as Alexander and Baldwin’s conspicuous Kukui’ula in Poipu.
And of course, Kaua’i has the neighboring Ni’ihau island, the only large 100% private island in Hawaii. Ni’ihau is almost exactly half the size of Lana’i (69.5 square miles to 140.5, respectively), and it has even less water, no development, a barely profitable ranch, and no public access. But it is still owned by the local land barons, the Robinson family, along with large parts of Kaua’i's interior and West side. The owners are getting old themselves, and who knows how that succession will happen, or should they sell, what would change. I think those potential scenarios are in the minds of a lot of people on Kaua’i as they watch Ellison’s next moves on Lana’i.