L.A. billionaire David Murdock in talks to sell his Hawaii property

lanai.jpg Officials from L.A.-based Castle & Cooke have told Gov. Neil Abercrombie that the company is talking to a buyer about the sale of Murdock's holdings in Lanai, the Honolulu Star Advertiser is reporting. Lanai is the sixth-largest Hawaiian island - often called the "Pineapple Island" because of its many plantations (Murdock took control in 1985). We're talking about tens of thousands of acres - some of which Murdock has developed into luxury resorts and homes. (He owns practically the entire island.) From the Star Advertiser (subscription required):

[Maui Mayor Alan] Arakawa spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz and Arakawa confirmed the meetings. Arakawa said it was a "serious consideration" by Castle & Cooke that could result in a decision soon. No one at the meetings would disclose the prospective buyer's name, though some people are speculating that the island would appeal to other billionaires with ties to the island, such as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison or Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Castle & Cooke, which owns 98 percent of Lanai, would not even confirm a sale effort, but said the company routinely considers offers for assets. "We continue to explore our options, which could include selling Lanai assets," said Carleton Ching, a spokesman for the California-based company's Hawaii subsidiary.


Murdock, a corporate raider with diverse holdings from transportation equipment leasing to biotechnology park development, acquired his initial stake in Lanai when he rescued publicly traded Castle & Cooke, one of Hawaii's oldest companies, from bankruptcy in 1985 and became its chairman and chief executive. Castle & Cooke's ownership of Lanai stemmed from an acquisition James Dole made in 1922 to expand his Hawaiian Pineapple Co. Ltd. and establish the world's largest pineapple plantation. Murdock jolted Lanai's plantation community by announcing he would end pineapple production by 1993, and he pursued more aggressive development of real estate that produced two luxury hotels on Lanai surrounded by hundreds of resort homes.

The investments have done poorly, and Murdock recently tried moving in a different direction with a windmill plant that would deliver electricity to Oahu. The locals aren't thrilled about that idea either. Murdock has wanted to sell the property for some time, but word of a potential seller seems to be new. From Honolulu Civil Beat late last year:

Not everyone is convinced that it's sellable. And with Castle & Cooke losing $20 million to $40 million annually on its Lanai properties, some fear that the company might just shut down its operations. "There seems to be this fantasy going on that someone like Murdock will come buy it," Alberta de Jetley, the publisher of the island's monthly newspaper, told Civil Beat last month. "There's no one like Murdock. Why would anyone want to buy an island that takes $20 million to keep afloat?"

By the way, the Business Journal's latest survey of wealthiest Angelenos has Murdock's net worth at $2.8 billion. He's 89 and hopes to live to 125.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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