“You may have noticed, I do like to fly under the radar.” -- Pierre Omidyar, 2009
by Andrew Walden
For six years now, one of the nation’s leading ultra-luxury resort developers has wormed his way into Hawaii’s political system. His operatives plant stories in major media outlets. He is openly “investing” $50,000 in officials of the Abercrombie Administration, the State Attorney General’s Office, and Honolulu Hale—as well as Kamehameha Schools, the University of Hawaii and HGEA. Positioning himself as a major funder of non-profits and environmental groups, he has carefully cultivated a public image as a highly—almost comically--partisan Progressive Democrat.
And now the bulldozers are warming up on the North Shore of Kauai.
Even after three years of greenwash, billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s scheme to build an eco-resort with 86 villas and 34 ridgeline McMansions on the defunct former site of a crass 1960s Club Med is drawing strong opposition. Nearly 3,700 people have signed a Stop Hanalei Plantations petition, 400 protesters packed Hanalei School November 13 to protest the project, and a coalition has been formed to Save Hanalei Ridge.
But Hanalei Plantations--planned by Omidyar from at least 2007-- is just one part of Omidyar's luxury resort kingdom.
Omidyar introduced himself to Hawaii’s political scene with a March 22, 2009 Honolulu Advertiser interview. Claiming to have moved to a 5,000 square foot oceanfront Kahala mansion in 2006 to "downsize" from his infamously megalomaniacal 48,000 square foot house in Henderson, Nevada, Omidyar was sure to touch Progressives’ political hot buttons. Readers learned that he lent his jet to carry Jimmy Carter to talk to Hamas. He spoke of emergency escape plans in case of ‘worldwide pandemic’, and his proclaimed fears that Hawaii would suddenly run out of food. He talked about Punahou, where he studied 8th and 9th grades within a year after future President Barack Obama’s graduation.
But certain other things were left out — he neglected to mention his campaign contributions to George W. Bush and four different Republican congressional candidates. And he didn’t move to Kahala to “downsize” -- he still has the house in Henderson and at least three others. As the Las Vegas Sun explains:
In 2003, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar purchased an 11-acre lot on the edge of Seven Hills and began building a massive estate. In 2006, he completed his 48,000-square-foot, 33 bedroom, 36 bath mansion that is assessed at more than $23 million.
Omidyar's Henderson Spread
Omidyar's inner developer came out in one solitary sentence in the Advertiser interview:
Besides eBay, Omidyar's financial empire also includes a big stake in luxury hotel operator Montage Hotels & Resorts, a 4.2 percent share of Maui Land & Pineapple Co., and undeveloped resort property in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Sonoma, Calif.
In May, 2002 Omidyar registered Laguna Beach Resorts LLC and used it to complete the purchase of his first luxury resort, The Laguna Colony Hotel, launching the high-end Montage Resorts brand in partnership with Alan Fuerstman, a former Bellagio Las Vegas executive.
Omidyar's Laguna Colony Hotel
On November 26, 2007, the year after buying in Kahala, Omidyar quietly became the business partner of Broken Trust figure Jeff Stone. Two days after the deal closed, Pacific Business News carried this item with no mention of Omidyar's involvement:
An affiliate of Montage Hotels & Resorts has purchased 122 acres of land on the North Shore of Kauai that will eventually become the site of a luxury resort.
The former Hanalei Plantation land on the Princeville plateau overlooks Hanalei Bay and is adjacent to Starwood's Princeville Resort and is fronting the Hanalei River, across from the county's Black Pot Park. The Montage purchase also includes the historic Kamoomaikai fishpond....
Montage, an ultra-luxury resort brand that currently has no Hawaii presence, has no immediate plans or timetable for development, said Alan Fuerstman, founder and CEO of Montage Hotels & Resorts.
"We eventually intend to build a wonderful and appropriate Montage Resort at Hanalei, one that the entire community will be welcomed to enjoy and be proud of," Fuerstman said in a statement.
Princeville Associates, master developer of the 9,000-acre Princeville at Hanalei master-planned resort, has been seeking strategic alliances that would aid in the restoration and revitalization of parts of Princeville and Hanalei, said President Jeff Stone.
In March, 2007, Omidyar invested $10M in Maui Land and Pineapple. Steve Case invested $5M. The following year it was revealed that ML&P was a target of the nation's biggest human trafficking prosecution. Omidyar's contributions to anti-slavery charities helped him and helped ML&P in avoiding responsibility for the allegations.
Eight months after the Advertiser interview, on December 2, 2009, Omidyar formed Ohana Real Estate Investors, LLC., a California Corporation. The Street October 6, 2011 explains:
Behind Montage Hotels & Resorts is Ohana Real Estate Investors LLC, a relative unknown in the hospitality world until investors that included The Athens Groups, an original developer of the Laguna Beach property, and Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay, bought a majority stake of an area resort development business from Marriott International, eventually turning it into Montage Laguna Beach. Today, the real estate investment and oversight group aims to "achieve superior long-term returns through the development and ownership of luxury hospitality assets and to make strategic hospitality-related acquisitions."
In December, the company debuted its third property, Montage Deer Valley -- a ski-in/ski-out resort within Utah's Park City community. This July, it acquired Bacara Resort & Spa, just north of Santa Barbara, from the Adco Group, a privately owned New York-based firm led by founder Alvin Dworman. It developed and opened the Bacara in 2000 at a cost of $222 million, according to the Santa Barbara News-Press. Bacara made national headlines as the site of Oprah's famous 2005 Legends Ball, where such celebrities as Tom Cruise, Mariah Carey and John Travolta mingled. It also made plenty of local headlines when the surrounding community felt "shut out" and opposed the Bacara's ongoing development. …
For a next step, Montage has its eyes set on Mexico's Los Cabos….
… Montage can certainly become an international hotel brand to reckon with, even compared with the likes of Four Seasons, Starwood's St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton ….
The Hanalei Plantation website burbles:
We believe it is our kuleana to share the history of this place, take care of its resources and preserve its cultural story of a time long ago. Join us as we share what we've learned from others in the community, our team of experts in various fields of study and what we propose for Hanalei Plantation Resort of tomorrow. As we embark on this long journey, we ask that you provide us your comments and mana'o.
But Ohana's website skips to the root of the matter, money:
Ohana Real Estate Investors LLC (“OREI”), is a real estate investment and oversight group for a U.S. based family. The mission of OREI is to achieve superior long term returns through the development and ownership of luxury hospitality assets and to make strategic hospitality related acquisitions....
The development portfolio includes a number of projects in North America that are in various stages of planning. The team at OREI is comprised of hospitality professionals in development, finance, construction, architecture and design, residential, asset management, and acquisitions.
Ohana resorts include:
A Princeville.com news release February 10, 2012 announces a Jeff Stone-Omidyar golf course and property deal directly adjacent to the now-controversial Hanalei Ridge development:
The Princeville at Hanalei resort community on Kauai’s North Shore is one of the world’s most beautiful travel destinations. For the first time, Princeville will offer a very limited number of “One of a Kind” oceanfront multi-acre ranch home sites, with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Bali Hai, Anini Beach Shoreline and the Kilauea Lighthouse. Later in the year, contemporary Hawaiian Hales and Villas will also be offered, designed to preserve island legacies, while providing understated luxe amenities & services all tied to the new St. Regis Princeville, Prince and Makai Courses, existing resort recreational and adventure amenities.
Montage Golf, a division of Montage Hotels & Resorts, known for their collection of distinctive hotels, resorts and residences in stunning settings, will oversee management, training and programming at the Prince Course and Princeville Golf Club and Adventure Center. Princeville is Montage Golf’s debut in Hawaii’s luxury resort marketplace. “The distinguished history and spectacular setting of the Prince Course are truly extraordinary and we are honored to partner with Jeff Stone to design and implement a memorable golf experience for our guests,” said Greg Villeneuve, Vice President of Golf for Montage Hotels & Resorts.
“We’re looking forward to unveiling the new Prince Course and are truly excited about the partnership with Montage and the company’s commitment to excellence in golf service,” says Jeffrey R. Stone, Princeville at Hanalei master developer. “Montage has redefined ‘comfortable luxury’ in the hospitality industry and brings a new level of prestige and cachet to Princeville and Hawaii’s golf industry. They are second to none when it comes to delivering exclusive experiences and their expertise in building signature outdoor adventure programs, is a natural fit for our existing Princeville Ranch Adventures and the North Shore of Kauai.”
In contrast to the "under the radar" semi-secrecy surrounding his development schemes, Omidyar effort to create a progressive image and buy influence is very public. In 2009, Omidyar pledged to distribute $50M via the Hawaii Community Foundation between 2009 and 2014. In 2010 Omidyar launched the Ulupono Initiative to distribute even more payoffs to the non-profit sector. Hungrily, the September 10, 2010 Star-Advertiser wheedled: "When asked how much of their fortune they plan to donate to Hawaii charities, Omidyar said, 'There's a lot of need here.'"
On May 4, 2010, Omidyar launched Civil Beat--perhaps the most complete greenwashing exercise Hawaii has ever seen. Asked about the site in an August, 2012 Honolulu Magazine interview, Beverly Keever explains: “I don’t know if (Omidyar is) making any money. But he’s interested in impact, and he’s had it."
And 2012 saw the launch of "Omidyar Fellows" a standard old-boy training academy for the next slug of 'catch the wave' development pitchmen.
Ironically, the leafy green background imagery on the Omidyar Fellows website is the same as that used on the Hanalei Plantation website.