Alvin Awaya

Trustee, Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation

October, 2003

Alvin Awaya, the sole Hawaii trustee of the $2 billion Maryland-based Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation may be a superhero’s sidekick disguised as a low-key local guy. Like his mentor, the late legendary financier Harry Weinberg, Awaya shuns the media. Yet, Awaya is credited with providing big time for Hawaii’s social “safety net.” In following the last wishes of Harry Weinberg, Awaya has made Hawaii a better place.

Lloyd Sueda of Sueda and Assoc. AIA, a consultant to the Weinberg Foundation, says Awaya is like his shadow because he regularly lunches and golfs with him and lives in the same building. Sueda estimates the foundation donates about $100 million a year to charity of which Hawaii gets $20 to $25 million. “The moneys have been so significant in Hawaii. If it didn’t happen, I’d hate to see how many nonprofits would not be in business today,” he says.

“I would certainly put him on a list of the 10 who have most fundamentally saved or prevented Hawaii from becoming a much darker place,” concurs Joe Blanco, a real estate consultant. “In terms of help for the people that really need it, he’s been the savior. In the eyes of those people, he’s definitely very powerful.”

Blanco, who was an executive assistant and technology czar under Gov. Ben Cayetano, recalls how Awaya could annoy the governor. “He always used to get a little irritated because Alvin would never show up at Washington Place for dinner,” says Blanco. “[Awaya] got invited so many times and the trustees would come over. Alvin would always set it up for the trustees and never show up. He would say ‘Hey, let the other guys have it.’ That’s how low key he was.”

Low key, maybe, (he declined to be photographed for Hawaii Business) but key to making multimillion dollar decisions for the foundation in Hawaii. Steve Sofos, president and chief executive officer of Sofos Realty Corp. says, “Alvin is the person in Hawaii that spearheads how the money’s given away and they give away a lot of money to a lot of needy organizations.”

By Sueda’s estimation, the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, through related Hawaii companies, owns about 200 parcels of land here. The foundation was No. 4 on Hawaii Business’ list of the wealthiest landowners in 2002, controlling 2,110 acres of land with a total 2001 tax-assessed value of $928 million. Some of the foundation’s notable holdings include the 3660 Waialae Office Building, the Luana Hills Golf Course, Harbor Center, Willows Restaurant, industrial acreage in Iwilei and land in Ko Olina, home of the infamous $70 million tax credit.

Sueda says, “Because Harry had amassed so much property, [Awaya] has all this real estate and real estate makes money. If you don’t have any debts and all you do is pay your real property tax, at the end of the day, you got money. Then ultimately all of this goes to charity. It’s just like a fantasy story, yeah?”

Is Awaya a storybook hero?

“I think the hero is Harry and I think Alvin is just fulfilling his wishes,” says Sueda.

-Kelli Abe Trifonovitch

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch