AOL’s Steve Case buys Amfac’s Lihu’e acreage

PUHI – With a few strokes of the pens yesterday, Steve Case, founder of America Online, became Kaua’i’s second-largest private landowner.

Only the Robinson family, with its 51,000 acres, owns more private Kaua’i land than Case, who yesterday formally acquired over 18,000 acres of former Amfac land from Hanama’ulu to Puhi, and towards the center of the island.

Late last year, Case bought Grove Farm and its 21,600 acres, for around $26 million in cash. Yesterday’s cash deal, for somewhere near the $26 million Amfac was asking for the land, gives Case over 40,000 acres of Kaua’i real estate.

Since the on-island officers of Grove Farm Company, Inc. are the same as the officers of Case’s Visionary LLC (a Virginia limited liability company) that acquired the Amfac land, it is expected that the former Amfac land will be managed in the same way as Grove Farm’s holdings.

That means farmers, ranchers and other agricultural interests will be contacting David Pratt and others to arrange for leases of portions of the former Lihu’e Plantation Company, an Amfac Sugar Kaua’i operation that quit growing sugar late last year.

Pratt is president and chief executive officer of both Grove Farm and Visionary. Allan A. Smith is vice president and chief operating officer, Sandra Day is vice president, chief financial officer, secretary and treasurer, and Michael Furukawa is vice president, all of both entities.

“Steve Case owns both of these (companies), run by the same people in this room,” Pratt said yesterday in the Grove Farm headquarters board room here.

“We feel that we have the knowledge and the expertise to run large agricultural acreage, which is what this is,” Pratt said of the newly acquired land.

Actually, over half of the 18,000 acres acquired is in the state conservation district, with most of the rest in the state agricultural district. Pieces of Hanama’ulu and parts of Lihu’e, around 550 acres which were part of the sale, are zoned industrial, and single- and multi-family residential, Pratt said.

There will be no rush to develop those lands, he added.

Visionary, doing business as Lihu’e Land Company, is ready to enter into leases and licenses with farmers, ranchers and others interested in working the land. Several existing leases, many between former Lihu’e Plantation employees and Amfac, will remain in place.

Pratt said the new company is “anxious, interested to lease land to farmers and ranchers in the Hanama’ulu area.”

Honolulu Realtor Peter Savio was among several would-be buyers of the former Amfac land, and had put into motion a plan to sell pieces of the acreage to farmers and ranchers, if he successfully acquired the former Lihu’e Plantation land.

Asked if the new company would entertain a proposal from Savio and the Kaua’i agricultural entities he had organized, both Pratt and Smith shook their heads. “We don’t need him.”

But they quickly added that they would welcome lease or license negotiations with some of the local farmers and ranchers who had expressed interest in Savio’s concept.

“We’re looking for good farmers,” Smith said.

Pratt said the company is also looking for a crop that could be planted on a large amount of the newly acquired acreage, something like the Kaua’i Coffee that replaced sugar at Alexander & Baldwin’s former McBryde Sugar Company, Ltd. in Kalaheo, Koloa and Numila.

But he wouldn’t rule out entertaining offers to buy large chunks of either the Grove Farm or Lihu’e Land Company holdings.

In the interim, Pratt envisions ecotourism uses on some of the Lihu’e Land Company holdings, such as the hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, fishing, and backroads all-terrain vehicle and four-wheel-drive-van tours currently doing business on Grove Farm land.

Regarding Maha’ulepu, Grove Farm’s beachfront property near the Po’ipu Bay Golf Course and Hyatt Regency Kaua’i Resort & Spa, Pratt said he would still like to see a first-class resort hotel there.

He thinks there is enough room for such a resort, and for a compromise position allowing accommodation of the Sierra Club’s desire to see part of the spectacular area as a wilderness preserve.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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