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ANALYSIS: Who Owns Hawaii?

January 31, 2014, 1:34 PM HST · Updated February 14, 5:12 PM
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The Hawaiian archipelago as seen from space. NASA photo.

The Hawaiian archipelago as seen from space. NASA photo.

By Nate Gaddis

In a previous analysis, we examined land-use patterns in Hawaii by posing the question, “How much of Hawai`i is concrete?”

This time, we take a look at who owns much of that land by profiling Hawaii’s 10 largest landowners by acreage.

Hawai`i: We are the 0.0001%

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Even the most “broke-ass” of Hawaii’s residents can take comfort in a simple fact:

There is roughly 1 acre of state-owned land for every person living in the islands. Put another way, we each own a commonly-held share of around 0.0001% of state property.

Take that, Larry Ellison.

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While none of us can actually claim title to that turf, the more than 1.5 million acres of land owned by the state of Hawai`i (the largest landowner here by far) at least makes it likely that decades from now, there will still be plenty of green space to go around.

Editor’s note: We included the 193,705 acres held by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Some may dispute the notion of DHHL holdings being “state property.” If counted on its own, DHHL would represent the fourth-largest landowner in the islands.

Uncle Sam and the Princess

Not surprisingly, the US government owns a generous slice of the Aloha State, holding title to a little under 531,000 acres of land in Hawai`i.

halemaumau_glow

Sights such as this glow emanating from Kilauea volcano’s Halema‘uma‘u Crater attracts visitors who spend millions of dollars in the local economy. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The vast majority of that land (432,205 acres of it) is owned on the Big Island, where Uncle Sam operates the massive Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park.

While the state and federal government make up the No. 1 and No. 2 land owners by acreage, Hawaii’s third-largest landowner is actually one of the biggest estates in America, Kamehameha Schools.

Created by the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop (a direct descendant of Kamehameha the Great), “Kam School” is probably most famous for its 600-acre flagship Oahu campus.

600 acres is spacious, to be sure. But in total, Kamehameha Schools actually owns over 363,000 acres in Hawai`i, with roughly 82% of that land located on the Big Island.

Old Money Gets New Neighbors

Larry Ellison: one of only two "new money" landowners to make our top ten list. Public domain image.

Larry Ellison: one of only two “new money” landowners to make our top 10 list. Public domain image.

Former “Big Five” sugar giant (and Matson parent company) Alexander & Baldwin is the fourth largest landowner in the islands, and the only major surviving sugar processor in the state, with nearly 90,000 acres owned on Maui, and over 20,000 acres on Kauai.

Several other “old money” landowners make up the next few names on our list, with the 106,883-acre Parker Ranch on the Big Island coming in at No. 5, and 58,417-acre Molokai Ranch at No. 7.

When oracle CEO Larry Ellison purchased Castle & Cook’s nearly 90,000-acre share of Lanai (98% of the island itself) in 2012, he instantly became Hawaii’s sixth-largest landowner.

He also happens to be one of only two new faces to appear on the list of Hawaii’s top 10 landowners in decades.

The eighth and ninth spots belong to the descendants of the Robinson family, which in total owns 96,714 acres on Kauai and Ni`ihau (the latter of which they control almost entirely).

Rounding out the top 10 is the only other “new money” investor to make it into the select club of major landholders here in recent memory. In the year 2000, former AOL chief Steve Case purchased Grove Farm on Kauai.

By 2002, Case had also purchased a neighboring plantation that reportedly had once employed his grandfather. In total, Case now owns over 36,000 acres on the Garden Isle.

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