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Ex-Ilikai employee eyes takeover deal


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POSTED: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

During his five-year stint as a beach captain at the Ilikai during the mid-1960s, real estate investor Thomas Schmidt says he used to think, “;Someday I'd like to own a hotel.”;

More than four decades later, Schmidt, 66, says he is putting a deal together to buy the foreclosed units at the Ilikai from lender iStar in hopes of reviving the Ilikai to its former glory.

New York-based iStar FM Loans LLC purchased the 203 residential and 16 commercial units at auction last month for $51 million.

Judge Karen Blondin has not signed the order yet, according to Commissioner George Van Buren, but after she does, the deal should close within 35 days.

Schmidt declined to say how much he would be offering iStar, only that it would be “;a little more than $51 million.”; He and a hui of investors, whom he declined to name, are interested.

But Schmidt, co-owner of the PepperTree apartment hotel in Aiea, is doing his due diligence, and says what he's most concerned about are costs for deferred maintenance at the property.

“;I think a lot of people are in the same position we are,”; he said. “;There's the deferred maintenance and working with some unknowns.”;

Schmidt owned a two-bedroom unit at the Ilikai for more than 20 years starting in 1972, but sold it because he was concerned about mounting maintenance issues.

The plumbing, electrical and the mechanical workings are the main concerns, given the age of the Ilikai, which opened in 1964.

Schmidt did not say how much he would invest in the property, but said a greater number of rooms would have to be in the hotel inventory to make it work.

Some of the units are in the hotel pool under management that Big Island developer Brian Anderson set up before going into foreclosure, while others belong to Shell Vacations as time-share units. Yet others are owned individually and managed by different property owners.

The condo association is owed at least $1.1 million in unpaid maintenance fees from the foreclosed units, and there are about 150 union Ilikai employees whose jobs are on the line.

“;We'd keep all the employees,”; Schmidt said. “;Where would you get employees like this?”;

Walking around the property, Schmidt is a fount of memories.

Walking along the fence by the lagoon, he says it ended about midway, and that was where he had his beach captain table.

There were about a dozen beachboys who used to set out beach mats, chairs and towels, run a boat across the lagoon and give surf lessons. They were paid only $1.50 an hour, and as beach captain he was paid $1.75 an hour, but the tips were great.

Every morning, they headed to the old Tahitian Lanai to get popovers and coffee for breakfast.

He remembers the Ilikai when founder Chinn Ho was around, and in its heyday in 1967, he said, great parties were thrown in the ballroom for up to 2,000 Ilikai employees.

“;It was a great life,”; he said. “;I lived on a boat 100 yards away.”;

He remembers when James MacArthur, who played Detective Dan “;Danno”; Williams on “;Hawaii Five-O,”; used to walk by, and how everyone loved to say, “;Book 'em, Danno”; when he passed by.

He says the producers of “;Hawaii Five-O”; paid to shoot scenes in his Ilikai condo. Schmidt says he loved it because “;they cleaned it better than I could have ever cleaned it.”;

He says the Ilikai could once again be a four-star hotel, maybe, but it doesn't have the physical capacity to be a five-star hotel.

Schmidt has been co-owner of the 64-room PepperTree since 2000, which he says has done all right during the recession due to military clientele.

The boarded-up, empty Yacht Harbor Tower next door, with its empty swimming pool, is owned by California investor eRealty and isn't a major concern, he said, although he will be watching to see what happens. In his days they called it Ilikai Ewa.

“;It's better to have one good pool than two mediocre pools,”; he said.

Prior to the sale of the foreclosed units to iStar, Commissioner Van Buren said he had spoken with more than a dozen interested buyers. He's still fielding calls, but those buyers will now need to negotiate a deal with iStar once the sale has closed.