By Wendy Osher
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa met recently with the new majority owner of the island of Lana’i, Larry Ellison, during a face-to-face discussion aboard Ellison’s yacht off the coast of Lanai.
“It was during that discussion that I realized that Mr. Ellison’s goals and Maui County’s goals have a lot in common,” said Mayor Arakawa the following day in his 2013 State of the County Address . “Like us he is committed to developing clean renewable sources of energy for the community, wants to strengthen the visitor industry and improve local infrastructure and the overall quality of life for the people there.”
We sat down with Mayor Arakawa to discuss what transpired during the meeting with Ellison, and to see what could be in store for the island of Lanai. The full transcript of Mayor Arakwa’s comments is posted below:
“First of all, I’d like to really thank Larry for inviting us to visit with him. As a new owner of much of Lanai, and one of the richest people in the world, he was also one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve come to meet, and we struck it off really nice.
Larry explained to us that he came from a home where he and his mother were actually on welfare and he really had to go through some very hard times. Like every other family he had difficulty raising his children and sending them to school. It’s only because he was able to take roughly $1,200 and invest it at a time when he was just very fortunate to come up with a very new concept in building Oracle, that he was able to build this empire. But, most of his background is an average person trying to make a living. Coming from that background, he is very much aware of what people’s needs really are and how tough it is to make a living.
Almost everything he’s doing on Lanai is geared toward trying to better the community–provide better living conditions. At the same time, provide business and economic opportunities for himself and everyone else involved–and that really is everyone including the citizens there.
He’s looking at trying to be able to put in a desalinization plant because the community water system is lacking. That water desalinization plant will allow them to bring in some of the top experts from around the world to start doing alternative planting–being able to create different kinds of agricultural commerce. When I say alternative planting, it can be anything from veg crop to orchards. He is looking at trying to create orchards for export.
At the same time, he already created a lot of changes within the hotel structure. He’s thinking about building a third hotel on the backside of Lanai, that used to be Destination Lanai, and is totally abandoned and just falling apart right now. He’s bringing it back as another asset to the community.
All of these have economic value as well as job opportunities for the community.
His philosophy, which I thought was really a good one, sort of mirrors what we try to do here in the county. That is, if you treat your employees well, and you treat your community well, people will appreciate the things that you do.
Knowing that he needs to have an employee base, he’s been working with the community to take a lot of the old houses that are falling apart and rehabilitating them in the manner that the community wants–which is the old plantation style.
He’s found the things in the community that the community likes to recreate at. The swimming pool, which was the most contentious part of the community because the former owner closed it down, and was met with protests with just about everybody on Lanai–they rehabilitated it, put it back up in service, and it’s actually a hotel quality swimming pool and very, very nice.
He fixed up the basketball courts. He’s fixing up a lot of the facilities. There’s discussion about creating a complete football field and complex. Baseball fields have been improved.
He’s also talked to us about putting in a bowling alley–using the old, what we’re using as the county building now as the community center–but resurrecting it again as it was before.. a four-lane bowling alley, except he wants to put eight (lanes), because if tourists want to come and bowl there, then he wants to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the uses for the leagues from the community…
On Lanai there’s not a whole lot of places for the kids to be able to do things, so creating a place for them to sort of hang around and talk story and recreate would be very nice in the middle of town.
He’s looking at a lot of these kinds of improvements because he wants to have a happy community–and that happy community will translate into people being very friendly and having a higher quality of life.
As he explained it to us–cause people have asked me why would he be spending so much money on Lanai. If you take a big city like San Diego or someplace else on the mainland, it’s just too massive. Anything he does there, it’s just too massive, and it gets lost. On Lanai, he has a little over 3,000 people living there and he can affect each and every one in a positive manner. He can actually change their lives for the better and he can be a participant in the community.
At the same time, helping the community gives him a base to be able to walk through the community and have people that actually like it. You can’t buy that kind of feeling. You can only create the opportunities for people to like you, but you have to be genuine about it. I think he’s a very genuine person, and he genuinely wants the community to have a higher quality of life. So, he’s going to go out of his way to find ways to be able to improve that community’s position and to improve every person’s quality of life there to the level that they’ll allow it.”