One-percenters flock to Hawaii as state battles gentrification

Wave of tech entrepreneurs show wealthy are taking over the islands

Meta's Mark Zuckerberg & Amazon's Jeff Bezos (iStock, Getty Images)
Meta's Mark Zuckerberg & Amazon's Jeff Bezos (iStock, Getty Images)

Hawaii, a tourist destination for more than a century, is becoming a victim of its own success as one-percenters put down roots.

Sales of properties costing $10 million or more jumped sixfold in the last year alone, Town & Country magazine reported.

“We always thought people wanted authentic experiences, and we encouraged them to come and live like a local,” said Chris Kam, president of Honolulu-based research company Omnitrak. “Somewhere along the line, that messaging got interpreted as ‘Move to Hawaii and become a local.’ ”

More than 600 homes sold for $3 million or above in the first three quarters of 2021, double the number of a previous record set in 2017.

The gentrification of Hawaii’s islands, begun by robber barons, is now extended by transplants from Silicon Valley or Wall Street. The state has a “champagne problem” as people grapple crowded golf courses and waiting lists for private jets.

EBay founder Pierre Omidyar returned to the state where he spent part of his childhood and is now a full-time resident of Honolulu. Marc Benioff of Salesforce and Howard Schultz of Starbucks live on the Big Island and Oprah and Jeff Bezos call Maui home. Peter Thiel is in Makena, Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan are in Kauai and film producer Allison Sarofim is in Kahala on Oahu.

The state’s perceived safety and isolation, especially from gossip sites like TMZ, contribute to the allure. Others, such as Sarofim, cite the island’s environment and natural beauty. “Like many, I go to Hawaii to recharge, and a crucial part of that experience for me is to connect with nature,” she said.

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Zuckerberg, who spent $53 million on several hundred acres on Kauai in 2014 and $120 million on subsequent expansions, appears to be leading the army of billionaires flocking to the state.

According to the CEO of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, John De Fries, the newest big-name residents are just bringing more attention to something that has been happening for decades.

“Obviously, it’s highlighted right now by the top entrepreneurs and global game changers,” De Fries said. “But before those headliners came here, the wealthy kind of came here quietly.”

It’s a similar story in Puerto Rico, where a wave of gentrification has property surging prices on an island where 43 percent of the population live below the federal poverty level.

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[T&C] — Victoria Pruitt