But the island’s former owner, fellow billionaire David Murdock, is retaining the right to develop a wind farm that some residents fear will harm archeological sites and native birds. Hawaii’s governor said on Wednesday that Ellison, ranked in 2012 as America’s third-richest man, was purchasing the property from Murdock, whose real estate company Castle & Cooke owns all but 2 percent of Lanai’s 141 square miles (365 square km).
Previous media reports put the price tag at between $500 million and $600 million, but the price was not revealed in Wednesday’s filing.
“Murdock had a fantastic vision, but his turn of being the steward of Lanai is over,” said Mary Charles, owner of the historic Hotel Lanai on the edge of Lanai City’s main square, saying she was looking forward to having a younger and wealthier investor. Once known for its pineapple fields, Lanai is now visited for its two Four Seasons resorts, golf courses and luxury housing. Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates booked every hotel room on the island for his 1994 wedding. With Ellison’s fortune pegged at $36 billion, many Lanai residents hope he’ll be able to upgrade the island’s facilities and draw more tourists. Lanai depends primarily on its resorts to employ its nearly 3,000 residents.
Ellison will take over ownership of the two luxury Four Seasons resorts as part of his 98 percent share of the island. The remaining 2 percent is owned by a smorgasbord of private residents and local government. “The resorts need capital improvements. The golf courses need improving,” Charles said. “The business community is very optimistic he will be doing that. Ellison’s group is saying all the right things.” Lanai faces a continued tourism challenge with an airport runway that does not accommodate large planes. But as the world’s sixth-wealthiest man, Ellison may be beyond worrying about the island’s profitability.