Ellison plans new Lanai hotel, runway

A bungalow-style hotel, a desalination plant and a new airport runway are part of billionaire and new Lanai owner Larry Ellison’s vision for the island, Lanai residents said Friday.

The computer technology guru also reportedly would like to see one of the island’s luxury hotels, possibly Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay, go “off the grid,” as well as expand University of Hawaii Maui College’s outreach to the island, residents added.

At a Lanai Community Plan Advisory Committee meeting Thursday night, committee members said that Kurt Matsumoto, the chief operating officer of Ellison’s Lanai Resorts LLC, presented a vision statement for the island but set no timeline and stressed that the proposals were just a vision.

A message left for Matsumoto at his office Friday afternoon was not immediately returned.

Although committee members did note there were many proposals, that could take years to develop, they reported the vision was “positive” because proposals also included improvements to health care, education, housing and conservation on the island.

“It’s exciting times,” said committee member Caron Green, who has noticed beautification projects popping up in the small town after Ellison bought the island.

“This island was suffering tremendously the last few years, there’s a lot more positive energy right now,” he said.

Longtime outspoken Lanai resident Ron McOmber described the plans as “positive,” but he added he also had some concerns about some of the visionary goals.

“My God, the stuff he talked about was millions and millions of dollars and probably years and years away,” he said.

McOmber said that the plans “scared me a little bit” because he worried about how much control Ellison may have over the people of Lanai.

“I’m concerned. It will have a direct effect on us in many ways. I’m lucky. I’m retired. I own my own property. I’m in good shape. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

State Rep. Mele Carroll, whose district includes Lanai, said in a statement that is was impossible to put into words the surprise she felt when she read a story about Ellison possibly building a third hotel on Lanai.

She said she has not been informed of any plans by Ellison or his representatives, so can neither confirm nor deny what she read.

“If the story is true, I really do welcome the economic benefits that development will bring to the island,” Carroll said. “However, how that development will actually impact the island’s natural beauty and cultural diversity is essential to consider. In order to determine that impact, I believe he must communicate with the community and the state about his longer plans and goals. As I previously stated, I would really like to keep open the lines of communication between him and the representatives of the state,” Carroll said.

Ellison, the chief executive officer of computer technology company Oracle Corp., bought most of the island last year under a deal valued at “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The sale included the island’s two luxury hotels – the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay and Four Seasons Resort Lana’i Lodge at Koele – two championship golf courses and other assets.

Ellison, co-founder of the Redwood Shores, Calif., -based Oracle, is worth an estimated $36 billion, according to Forbes, ranking him the third richest American.

Recently it was reported that Ellison is buying Island Air, a small interisland airline.

McOmber noted the recent news about the airline and added that through Matsumoto’s discussions with the community, Ellison wouldn’t lengthen the runway, but instead place it in a new direction.

Among the proposals McOmber favored included keeping deer hunting alive on the island as well as adding more health care options for the elderly, including having hospice on the island for end-of-life care.

McOmber said that he paid thousands of dollars in medical care for his late wife, Phyllis, to stay at Lanai Community Hospital when she was suffering from cancer because there was no hospice care available, and she could not spend her last days at home.

McOmber added that although there was discussion about sustainability as well as boosting agriculture, there was no talk about wind energy.

Having a wind farm on the island has caused a stir among the residents, who don’t want to see the windmills on their island. They say the windmills would be used to harvest energy for Oahu residents at the expense of Lanai residents and the island’s environment.

Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama, who holds the Lanai residency seat, told The Maui News last year, as the sale of Lanai was pending, that Ellison’s staff told him their boss did not want to get involved with the wind issue.

But with Ellison buying the island, former Lanai owner and billionaire David Murdock retained the rights to develop a proposed wind farm on the remote northwestern part of the island.

Green said that Ellison’s staff members “seem to be very knowledgeable and aware of the issues and problems that Lanai faces. They seem to have ideas to address many of them.”

For example, she said they understand that tourism will remain the No. 1 employer and business on the island.

She noted that Ellison’s staff is studying desalination as a way to address Lanai’s water issues.

Green said that the new hotel is proposed where the day activity Club Lanai had been.

The proposed hotel would consist of individual bungalows, she said.

But McOmber wondered about the infrastructure for the hotel, including roads and waterlines.

As Matsumoto laid out the vision for the island, Green said that the company has already quickly been making improvements around town, including reopening the community pool, refurbishing at least the outside of the old jail and courthouse and adding picnic tables to Dole Park.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

* This article includes a correction from the original published on Saturday, January 26, 2013. Island Air is not the only scheduled commercial air carrier for Lanai. Incorrect information was provided in a story that appeared on Page A1 and continued to Page A4. The Maui News apologizes for the error.