Saturday, April 21, 2001

City should
think twice about
buying golf course

The issue: The City Council is
considering buying the Luana Hills
golf course along with the
surrounding acreage.

THE CITY COUNCIL appears to be embracing a plan to purchase the Luana Hills golf course and surrounding property to create a regional park. Acquiring the land around the golf course would effectively protect the scenic land from development, but the justification for buying the course itself, possibly through condemnation, is questionable unless the golf operation was in danger of being abandoned by its owner. That does not appear to be the case.

Luana Hills was one of the golf courses built by a Japanese investor at the height of Hawaii's real-estate bubble, then unloaded when the bubble burst.

After its developer ran up a $50 million debt, Japan-based Pan-Pacific Development Inc., which had lent money to the developer, acquired the property in a 1995 foreclosure auction for $35 million.

The value of the property kept going south, and the nonprofit Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation purchased it in December for $12 million.

The Weinberg Foundation said it planned to spruce up the 18-hole course and run it for an indefinite period.

The golf course takes up less than 200 acres of the property, which totals 1,084 acres. The City Council recently approved Mayor Harris' supplemental budget for the current fiscal year, including $4.2 million to purchase the golf course's surrounding acreage from the Weinberg Foundation.

Steve Holmes, chairman of the City Council's budget committee, says he plans to include money for the golf course and clubhouse. If the Weinberg Foundation declines to sell it for a price acceptable to the city, Holmes says, the city can use its power of eminent domain to acquire ownership.

The Luana Hills Country Club, at the base of the Koolau Range in Maunawili, is among Hawaii's most spectacular golf courses. The developer planned it as an exclusive club for wealthy Japanese members, but Japan's sluggish economy made that impossible. It remains a beautiful and challenging setting for golfers that has all the characteristics of a resort course high on the list of must-plays for visiting golfers -- not a municipal course.

The City Council should go forward in purchasing the pristine land surrounding the Luana Hills golf course. The Weinberg Foundation should not be forced to relinquish the course itself.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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