Editor’s Note: Big Owners And Big Changes

November, 2004

In the world of large institutional landholders, the number of local owners is dwindling. Of course, local educational trust, Kamehameha Schools, will top the list for years to come, except in the unlikely event it changes its land strategy and begins to sell off Hawaii assets. However, more and more names on Hawaii Business’ annual listing of the Top 20 Wealthiest Landowners belong to offshore owners.

Witness the sale of the Damon Estate holdings in Mapunapuna to HRPT Properties Trust last year. Today, it is the Massachusetts-based trust, and not the Damon family members, who are No. 12 on the list. Experts say this transformation from a local family treasure to East Coast investor’s asset is a bellwether, as you will find in the pages to come.

Another trend is the thirst for development these days. It has dollar signs growing in the eyes of those in both the public and private sector. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is No. 17 on the list, and has big plans to develop both a new hotel and residential housing on its Laie holdings and hopes to create a neighbor island experience on Oahu. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL), which has tax-exempt status because of its affiliation with the State of Hawaii, would be the second largest landowner after Kamehameha Schools, were it not for this status. DHHL has embarked on an ambitious strategy of partnering with private developers with an eye toward becoming “self-sustaining” someday.

The alii trusts, Kamehameha Schools, Queen’s Health Systems and the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, must operate in this atmosphere, while deciding how to best maximize earnings for their beneficiaries. The Ward family sold to General Growth Properties, several years ago, while the Campbell Estate, Outrigger’s Kelley family and the Castle family partnerships have also developed new strategies over the past several years.

In a report in September on the Hawaii economy, Carl Bonham and Byron Gangnes of the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) wrote, “The constraints to growth and adverse side effects have once again come to the fore. These include home affordability problems and infrastructure limitations.”

Land equals money equals power. We need to be aware of what increasing offshore ownership, strong projected economic growth and more development activity mean for our quality of life and business in the long run.

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch