Molokai Ranch is up for sale
Isle’s largest private landowner seeks a buyer for nearly 56,000 acres, but strong opposition has undone previous development plans
Jobs, not multimillion-dollar homes — that’s what state Rep. Lynn DeCoite of Molokai wants to see from whomever plans to buy the 55,575 acres up for sale on her home island.
The Molokai Ranch land, which was listed last week with a price tag of $260 million, encompasses a third of the island and includes 20 miles of coastline, 4,000 acres of forest, a cattle-ranching operation and a shuttered golf course and hotel that serve as a cautionary tale for buyers.
“I would hope that the new buyer is somebody that is willing to sit down and talk to the community,” DeCoite said Friday. “It all depends on what really is their vision for that side of the island. We were hit with huge development (plans) many years ago. . . . It didn’t stand well. People are looking for jobs and not mega-mansions on the west side.”
Whoever purchases the land will be among the top five landowners in the state, according to the property’s listing on Carvill Sotheby’s International Realty. Singapore-based GL Ltd. currently owns the land.
GL Ltd. was first established as Brierley Investments Limited in New Zealand in 1961, according to its website. By the 1980s, the company’s shareholdings had expanded from mainly Australia and New Zealand to more than 300 companies worldwide. That included Molokai Ranch, of which Brierley became the sole stockholder in 1987. The company switched its primary stock exchange listing from New Zealand to Singapore in 2000, then changed its name to GuocoLeisure Limited in 2007 and later to GL Limited in 2015.
Scott Carvill, principal broker and owner of Carvill Sotheby’s, said GL Ltd. is turning its attention to its main operations — hotels in Asia and London.
“Now, they believe, is the time for an owner that can really give the ranch the attention it needs,” Carvill said Monday. “They’ve kind of been long-distance managing it. It’s time for them to focus on their hotel operations and find the right buyer not just for the ranch, but the community as well.”
Carvill said he’s already “gotten a lot of inquiries.” The company has spent the past six months preparing information on water, roads and easements, as well as cultural sensitivities that it feels buyers should understand.
“The process that we’re doing is requiring buyers to do their due diligence upfront,” Carvill said. “We want the buyer to be educated about the ranch, the community. . . . We don’t want the buyer to write an offer and (later) be surprised.”
The 55,575 acres include more than 300 parcels spread across the island. Agricultural lands make up 48,400 acres.
Sitting on 29 acres are the oceanfront Kaluakoi Hotel and The Lodge at Maunaloa, which closed down along with Molokai Ranch in 2008. There are 1,400 acres of developed and undeveloped resort land, 4,100 acres of forested conservation lands, and 222 acres that include the closed Kaluakoi Golf Course and the operating Ironwood Hills Golf Course in Kalae. Also part of the deal are residential and commercial properties in Kaunakakai, Kualapuu and Maunaloa.
Carvill said the sale is geared to attract a legacy buyer, someone who’s more focused on “personal use and preservation of the land” than on developing properties for profit. It would be hard for a developer to come in anyway, because it would take several years to plan and get approvals for a large-scale project, and “you can’t close escrow in that time frame,” Carvill said.
But if time isn’t a deterrent, the now-abandoned golf course and hotel on Molokai Ranch’s property stand as reminders of the last time the community and landowner clashed over development.
In the early 2000s, Molokai Properties Ltd., a subsidiary of what was then GuocoLeisure, drew up plans for 200 luxury lots on 500 acres at Laau Point on the west end, saying the revenue would help restart the Kaluakoi Resort. Residents mounted stiff opposition, staging marches and camping on the site in protest. DeCoite was one of the homestead farmers who intervened at the time. She said people were concerned not only about the size and type of development, but also about how much more water the ranch would need to take.
The Laau plan crumbled — and with it Molokai Ranch, which announced in March 2008 that it would close down operations and lay off 120 employees. The ranch blamed opposition and the failed plan for the loss of potential revenue, according to news articles at the time.
Since then, Molokai Ranch has rebooted some of its operations, including cattle ranching. The company now has just over 1,400 head of cattle.
As the ranch awaits a buyer, no changes are on the horizon for the 24 employees of Molokai Ranch.
“Right now, our understanding is that everything is carrying on — business as usual,” project coordinator Malia Kino said Monday. “We’re just continuing as we are right now and waiting to see what happens.”
Rex Kamakana, who’s worked for the ranch for more than 20 years, wasn’t overly concerned.
“We’re already owned by a private company, so for me, no matter,” Kamakana said. “The ranch is split up into 300-something TMKs (tax map keys). I’d rather see one owner than 300 different owners.”
When asked whether GL Ltd. has been a good landowner, Maui County Council Member Stacy Crivello of Molokai said, “not most recently.” She said that the company’s representatives were not always transparent, and that she hopes the new buyer will be.
“I think it’s a major concern for our island,” Crivello said of the sale. “They’re the largest landowner. And the employees, I think, are No. 1. . . . I think the buyer should know what the challenges are, and I’m not talking about the community activism. I’m talking about a lot of the things that are unfinished.”
Crivello, who holds the council’s Molokai residency seat, said that includes improving the road to Kaluakoi, issues with water permits and whether the ranch plans to redevelop the Kaluakoi Hotel and other dormant projects.
“Lots of questions,” Crivello said. She pointed out that the community also has expressed interest in buying the ranch land, and while $260 million “is a lot of money,” she said, “anything is possible.”
Maunaloa General Store Manager Kahalenani Kama-Pele said she didn’t want to comment on the sale before she learned more, but she said she doesn’t think the community would allow a development like Laau Point again.
As a businessperson, Kama-Pele said she understands the need for jobs and the boost from the visitor industry, but she hopes any growth on the west end will continue to support Molokai’s fishing- and farming-based lifestyle.
“Tourism is a big key that helps the economy, but to an extent,” Kama-Pele said. “I don’t think opening a big beach hotel would be great for the island, but something smaller than that. A lot of businesses are mom-and-pop shops. Getting a big company here would really upset the economy.”
DeCoite, whose district includes Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and East Maui, agreed that the island “needs an economic driver,” and that she hoped the new buyer would be clear about his or her intentions early on. She added that “it’s all going to be about the water when purchasing this amount of land.”
Carvill said there was no deadline for the sale.
“The seller would always like sooner (than later),” Carvill said. “But we don’t want to put a time frame on it because we want the process done right.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.