A tech billionaire is quietly buying up land in Hawaii. No one knows why

A tech billionaire is quietly buying up land in Hawaii. No one knows why

Dara Kerr reports:

A life-size bronze statue of a cowboy sits at the center of Waimea. The cowboy is riding a horse, lasso in hand, pursuing a wild bull. It’s a monument to Ikua Purdy, a hometown hero, who was the first Hawaiian to become a hall-of-fame rodeo roper. This statue is meant to represent the spirit of the place here on Hawaii’s Big Island, which is wholly different from the tourist-laden beaches of Waikiki.

Waimea is primarily an agricultural town with just three stoplights and around 10,000 residents. It has lush forests filled with guava trees and torch ginger, and it’s known for being the birthplace of the Hawaiian cowboy, or paniolo. It sits thousands of feet above sea level, where misty winds often blow sideways and, on clear days, give way to expansive views of the island’s three towering volcanoes.

Over the last couple of years, a mystery has been brewing in this small mountain town. Someone has been quietly buying hundreds of acres of land — stirring worries about rising housing prices and speculation among locals about what exactly is going on.

Waimea is a tightknit community that has a large Native Hawaiian population, and the people here say they don’t want to lose that culture.

I first heard rumors about the land buys when I was visiting my family near there in November. My grandmother grew up in Hawaii, and I lived here as a child. I started asking around Waimea, and everyone seemed to know who was behind the purchases: billionaire Marc Benioff.

He’s the CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Salesforce, one of the world’s largest software companies, which owns the popular messaging service Slack and is worth nearly $300 billion. He also owns Time magazine. Benioff is hard to miss — the 59-year-old stands at a towering 6 feet, 5 inches and is often seen driving around Waimea in his white Hummer pickup, sporting his signature look of a baseball cap with his curly brown hair tumbling out back. [Continue reading…]

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