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Who Owns O‘ahu?

Mystery buyers, high fliers and all those LLCs—we take a look at who’s claiming stakes on O‘ahu.


(page 3 of 6)

The Resort Base

How WaikĪkĪ Works

Who Owns Waikīkī

71.79 acres

21.12 acres

16.6 acres

15.57 acres

11.56 acres

10.25 acres

Also: Halekūlani (3.5 acres), Outrigger Enterprises Inc. (2.5 acres), Weinberg Foundation affiliates, Anna Nieman Trust, Lillian Sapiro Trust, Cunha ‘Aina LLC, others.

Source: City and County, Real Property Assessment Division; all figures approximate as of 2013.


Once an intricate quilt of linked ponds, streams and rice paddies, Waikīkī today is a complicated bog of leases and land titles . The U.S. military hangs onto its 71-acre R&R headquarters at Fort DeRussy, while Kamehameha Schools, the Queen Emma Land Trust and the Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust draw revenues from their long-term tenants. Hotels and hotel management come and go, but much of the land stays in local hands—sometimes in very small increments, as in the case of the 1,315-sq. ft. easement, owned by the heirs of Stanley Cutter, that runs under the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s 22 acres.


Outrigger architect Roy Kelley started small back in the 1930s. He bought a six-unit apartment built in the early 1930s, grew the business slowly until after World War II, then fueled the mass-market tourism boom with the hotels that became the Outrigger Enterprises Group Inc. 


How does Waikīkī work? We asked Charles Kelley, Roy’s grandson and chairman of Hawai‘i’s largest hotel company (also Waikīkī’s largest local nontrust owner). The secret, he explained, isn’t ownership but management. Running an empire of 11,000 rooms and 4,200 employees worldwide requires flexibility and discipline. Outrigger has enjoyed great success outside Hawai‘i, in the Pacific-Asia region, but hasn’t hesitated to move into a market, such as Bali, and then move out. 


Similarly, Outrigger’s portfolio of owned and managed hotels in Waikīkī has risen and fallen, according to waves of tourism. “The hotel business is about buying low and selling high, in cycles,” says Kelley. “There’s the amount you make managing hotels, and the amount you make from selling. The money selling is where you make your money.”


With prices shooting up the past few years, “it’s a good time to be a seller,” Kelley says. “It doesn’t mean we’re giving up management. We’re very committed, we’re kama‘āina. We think it’s an advantage to be strategically diversified.”


Just as one sale from the Queen Emma Land Trust allowed the Kelleys to get a toehold in Waikīkī, a later sale by Kelley gave another Waikīkī self-starter and legend, William Mau, his big break. Kelley parted with a gas station and parking lot in order to allow Mau to build the Waikīkī Business Plaza. An alleged handshake deal included a no-hotel provision that Mau honored. The proceeds allowed Kelley to build two hotels, the Outrigger Reef and Outrigger Waikīkī—a testament to the interconnectivity underlying Waikīkī’s often mysterious workings.




Mainland Buyers

Malihini Magnet 

Your new neighbors include 1,269 Californians who bought O‘ahu homes worth more than $1 million each in the past six years, according to Title Guaranty data. The jump from 180 sales in 2012 to 257 in 2013 is notable: We must’ve done something right that year.   


Total homes sold to U.S. buyers (not including Hawai‘i residents): 2,816 over six years. The rest of the Top 10 after California: Washington (277), Texas (156), Colorado (135), New York (96), Illinois (87), Oregon (80), Arizona (69), Nevada (63) and Florida (48). At the bottom is Rhode Island, with a single sale in six years.


So where are our fellow citizens clustering? When all sales in 2014, not just those $1 million and above, are counted, Californians overwhelmingly prefer Honolulu (273), followed by the Leeward Side (76), the Windward Side (69), Central (30) and, finally, the North Shore (6). 


Where do local people buy? In 2014, for all properties, it’s Honolulu (4,471), Leeward Side (2,473), Central Plain (1,903), Windward Side (1,104) and the North Shore (130). 


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020