Hawaii has lost one of its most visionary and productive real estate developers, Herbert K. Horita, whose projects included Ko Olina Resort & Marina and thousands of Oahu homes.
Horita, 80, died peacefully Monday surrounded by family at home in Aiea, according to a family representative.
The Honolulu-born developer who once described himself as a "man of progress" built close to 13,500 single-family homes and condominiums as well as a Waikiki hotel, commercial and industrial property and the master-planned West Oahu resort over a career spanning a half-century.
Newtown Estates, Royal Summit, Royal Kunia, Parkway of Kaneohe, Aloha Surf Hotel, Pearl City Industrial Park, Chateau Waikiki, Waikiki Beach Tower, Harbor View in Waipahu, Seabreeze Estates of Hawaii Kai, Waialae Iki IV, Village Park and Waimalu Shopping Plaza are all Horita developments on Oahu. Horita also was involved in developing Maui Lani on the Valley Isle.
Horita’s work benefited generations of homeowners, created thousands of jobs and generated wealth for himself, investors and partners. The developer also had a few failures as well as detractors who opposed his plans that urbanized much of Oahu’s rural and agricultural landscape.
"You either loved him or hated him," said Jon Uchiyama, who worked with Horita from 1972 to 1997.
Uchiyama, now comptroller for another big Hawaii homebuilder, Castle & Cooke, said Horita had a combination of optimism, creativity and dedication that produced results.
"He had this saying: ‘Don’t give me why cannot. Just give me one reason why can.’ ‘No can’ was not in his vocabulary," Uchiyama recalled. "It was always, ‘Find a way.’"
Horita grew up in Honolulu and was introduced to the real estate industry through his father’s company, S. Horita Construction, one of Hawaii’s first general contracting firms.
Horita has said his toys growing up were lumber and machinery. As a teenager he spent summers working for his father, Shigeru.
"When other kids went to work in the cannery, my two brothers and I always, always worked in construction," he said in a 1975 Star-Bulletin interview.
After graduating from Farrington High School in 1948, Horita considered pursuing a different career while studying at the University of Hawaii. But in 1957 he sold his first home working for his father, and two years later formed Herbert K. Horita Realty Inc. in Kalihi.
Horita branched into development soon after with an opportunity to invest in land through developer Joseph Pao.
Joshua Horita, one of seven children of the developer and vice president of Herbert K. Horita Realty, said his father was most proud of Royal Summit and Newtown Estates on the slopes of Aiea.
The most momentous project for Horita was Ko Olina, a vision he had in the mid-1970s to turn 640 acres of sugar cane fields and rugged shoreline into a $2 billion resort with 10 hotels, a golf course, a marina and 3,000 homes.
Preservation groups, agricultural industry advocates and others vigorously fought the plan. A state planning department blasted the idea because of the site’s proximity to a naval air station and industrial park.
But Horita persevered in getting permits for the project and tapped the wave of capital that rushed into Hawaii from Japan in the 1980s to finance the ambitious plan.
Uchiyama said Ko Olina, initially known as West Beach, was a tough sell.
"I remember driving down through the cane fields to the rocky shoreline and whipping out a nicely colored plan and saying to people from Japan Air Lines, ‘Here’s the lagoon if you can think about it.’ (Horita) had vision."
Ken Williams, who became the resort’s senior project manager two years after grading work began, said it took incredible tenacity for Horita to get Ko Olina started with its massive infrastructure requirements, which included four man-made lagoons and a marina.
"The foresight that he had—and I have to also emphasize courage—is amazing," Williams said.
Horita got Ko Olina started in partnership with Japanese-based development firms TSA International and Kumagai Gumi, but he lost control of the project after financing and development stalled in the early 1990s as the Japanese investment bubble deflated.
Horita had completed one hotel, the four lagoons, a golf course and 280 townhomes. Another local developer, Jeff Stone, acquired the resort with partners in 1999 and since has gradually brought Horita’s original general vision significantly closer to completion.
Keith Horita, another son, said the difficulties with Ko Olina were rough, but he never saw his father stop being an eternal optimist. "Those were some lean days," he said. "(My dad) was never a cloudy-day kind of guy. His attitude was ‘Learn from it, move on.’"
Besides Ko Olina, Horita had other scrapes with failure in the wake of the Japanese investment downturn in the 1990s, losing two other high-profile projects, Royal Kunia and Maui Lani.
Horita might have experienced the high and low of the Japanese investment bubble more than any other Hawaii developer.
Ricky Cassiday, a local development industry consultant, said Horita’s impact on Hawaii’s housing market was similar to the mark the late Chris Hemmeter made with hotels.
"They were both on-scene, hard workers that built things that were pretty amazing," Cassiday said.
Both developers also felt the pain, and recovered from, bankruptcy—a personal case for Hemmeter and a company bankruptcy for Horita related to Royal Kunia.
Horita’s Halekua Development Corp. filed for bankruptcy in 2003. But in 2007 the developer repurchased the company’s main asset, an undeveloped second phase slated for 2,000 homes, and has worked to finish the subdivision with Honolulu-based Stanford Carr Development.
That same year, 2007, the Building Industry Association of Hawaii inducted Horita into its Hall of Fame.
Joshua Horita said his father took a less commanding role in the company in recent years but remained president and stayed involved in major decisions.
"He said this real clearly—he’ll retire when he passes," Joshua Horita recalled. "He still had the fire, the drive, the motivation and the wits to go about it."
In addition to seven children, Horita is survived by 13 grandchildren. He was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Memorial services will be held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Newtown on Jan. 4. Open viewing will be from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Services begin at 5 p.m.