For East Palo Alto, California–based DLA Piper partner Brad Rock, helping the sixth-richest man in the world buy Hawaii’s sixth-largest island may have been a plum legal assignment, but it was no vacation. “I did not play golf,” Rock says of the trip he took to Lanai earlier this year as part of his due diligence in advising on Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s acquisition of the island from fellow billionaire David Murdock for an amount the two sides would only say was hundreds of millions of dollars. The visit to Lanai was essential, Rock says, to get a feel for the people, culture, and politics of the place. Along the way, he visited many of the less-glamorous corners of the small island, including the local landfill, a solar power farm, a woodworking shop, and a feral cat kennel. “Buying land,” he says, “is not like buying a company.” This particular envy-inducing land deal closed on June 27, a week after Murdock—citing, in part, his desire to shed the more than $20 million in annual losses his Lanai resorts have cost him in recent years—notified Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission of his intention to sell the island. The disclosure came in a request to transfer three public utilities from Castle & Cooke Inc.—a Los Angeles–based company once tied to Dole Food Company that Murdock acquired in 1985 and took private in 2000—to an Ellison-owned holding company. In acquiring Lanai, Ellison gets two Four Seasons resorts, golf courses, and 88,000 acres of largely unspoiled land dotted with residential and commercial developments on the island of nearly 3,200 residents. Ellison—whose other property holdings include a high-end home in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, a historic garden in Kyoto, Japan, several homes near Lake Tahoe, California, and a string of properties and restaurants in Malibu, California—has not publicly divulged what prompted him to acquire Lanai. According to the public utility filing, however, “the Buyer anticipates making substantial investments in Lanai and is looking forward to partnering with the people of Lanai to chart the island’s future,” adding that the sale brings the potential for new jobs, economic stimulus, and a reinvigorated tourism industry. Adjacent to the much-larger Maui, the 50-mile-in-circumference Lanai—which means “veranda” in Hawaiian—was once home to a sprawling Dole pineapple plantation established by James Dole in the 1920s. Murdock shut down the island’s pineapple industry in 1993 and, in a move that stirred local opposition at the time, launched a wave of commercial development aimed at spurring tourism. Stories published in the local press depict Lanai as having a small-town feel where residents all know the local gossip and manage to get by without street lights, but also as a community marked by a kind of modern-day feudal culture that is the product of Murdock’s—and now Ellison’s—ownership of nearly the entire island.
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