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Olson Trust puts Wainaku Center up for sale

The grounds of Wainaku Center include 3,000 feet of shoreline, an amphitheater, and several lanais. (Photo courtesy of Wainaku Ventures)

The grounds of Wainaku Center include 3,000 feet of shoreline, an amphitheater, and several lanais. (Photo courtesy of Wainaku Ventures)

Denise Laitinen | Special to Hawaii 24/7

One of Hilo’s most well-known venues is on the market.

Wainaku Ventures LLC, whose principal is the Edmund C. Olsen Trust II, has put the Wainaku Center up for sale. It is being listed for $8.25 million.

Wainaku Ventures bought the 12-acre property for $7.7 million in 2012 with plans to use the two-story, 12,000-square-foot building as an event and convention center.

Wainaku Center Director Margaret Stanley said the trust’s president, Edmund Olson, is selling the property in order to focus on other business ventures.

“He wants to focus on his investment in the Naniloa hotel,” said Stanley, noting that Olson owns a 50 percent interest in the hotel. “That’s where he wants to focus his energy.”

The trust, which owns about 15,650 acres of prime agricultural and conservations lands, also owns Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company, Ka‘u Coffee Mill, Island Nuts Trucking, OK Farms, and Palehua Ranch, among others.

Over the last two decades several companies have tried their hand at developing the Wainaku property, which is the site of the former Hilo Sugar Mill.

In 1996, C. Brewer & Co., one of the “Big 5” sugar companies in Hawaii, bought the rundown mill with the intent of renovating the property and using it as its corporate headquarters.

C. Brewer & Co. renovated a former warehouse, which had been built in 1924 and turned it into a two-story 11,800-square foot business center.

Renovations included an expansive staircase made of koa wood harvested from the Hamakua Coast, as well as a large executive boardroom with koa flooring, wainscoting and ceiling.

A second story lanai was built on the ocean side of the building, providing commanding views of Hilo Bay.

But the building’s new career as corporate headquarters didn’t last long. Less than five years after renovating the building, C. Brewer & Co. dissolved in 2001.

Undeterred, C. Brewer’s chairman, John W.A. “Doc” Buyers, bought the property for a reported $3.5 million with the intent of turning it into a resort. Unfortunately, Buyers became ill a few years later and died in 2006 before implementing his vision for the property.

After Buyers’ death, office space within the renovated center was leased out to different organizations, including the University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Pharmacy program.

The property was put up for sale in 2010 but languished on the market for two years before being bought by Olson.

After purchasing the property, the trust quickly set about improving the grounds and landscaping, as well as making interior improvements, including the addition of extra bathrooms.

With 3,000 feet of shoreline overlooking Hilo Bay, including a massive retaining rock wall built by the sugar company in 1920, and grounds that include an amphitheater and outdoor lanais, the venue has become a popular location for private and community events.

The center is frequently used to host weddings, conferences, private parties, and community events, such as the annual Hilo Brewfest.

In a phone interview, Stanley said the facility is still accepting wedding reservations through 2015, but is advising couples that the building is for sale.

Noting that the center was on the market for two years before being bought by Olson, Stanley said the organization is prepared to wait for the right buyer.

Olson wants to find a buyer that shares his passion and vision for Wainaku and who has the time and commitment to carry the project forward, she said.

“I have not lost any enthusiasm or positive vision for the development of the Wainaku Executive Center and the potential for a future hotel and major tourist attraction in this location,” Olson said in a prepared statement.

Rebecca Keliihoomalu of MacArthur Sotheby’s International Realty is representing the seller. She can be reached at (808) 895-1156 or via email at

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