Seeing the Future
Rohr brought both his keen promotional instincts and his friendship with Arnold Palmer with him to Waikoloa Beach Resort. When he was named president and CEO of Waikoloa Land Company in 1988, construction was almost complete on the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa (now Hilton Waikoloa Village).
“At the time,” he says, “the plan was to build four hotels and four golf courses connected via a series of lagoons. There were no condos in the plan either, and all development was to be on the makai (ocean) side of the King’s Trail.”
Realizing that that approach was not going to succeed in a location as remote as Waikoloa was considered way back then, Rohr was determined to create a master plan that would maximize the potential of the land and resort, while drawing visitors from around the world to the Kohala Coast.
“I brought restaurateur Rob Thibaut over to look at building a restaurant,” he says. “Rob,” who owned successful restaurants under the TS Restaurants umbrella with partner Sandy Saxton, “told me we needed a little Waikiki at Waikoloa. ‘There’s no there there,’ he said.”
Taking heed of that advice, Rohr set about building the Kings’ Shops (which opened in 1991) and later Queens’ MarketPlace (first stores opened in 2007), altogether some 200,000 feet of shopping and dining space that would serve as the anchor for the resort.
Thibaut never built a restaurant at Waikoloa, but Roy Yamaguchi — a friend of The Commish and retail real estate expert Alan Beall, who was tasked with leasing the commercial space at Waikoloa — was an early lessee at Kings’ Shops, opening Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill in 1996. His prescience and trust paid off, as the location has been one of his better performing restaurants ever since.
“The resort would have never grown into the success story that it is today without the shopping centers,” Head says. “They drive interest and demand and have supported all the various resort developments.”
To commemorate his vision, achievements, and resolve — his will, his way — resort visitors will nowadays discover the symbolically named “Rohr’s Way” leading into Queens’ MarketPlace.
“The things I’m most proud of accomplishing at Waikoloa,” Rohr reflects, “are how we were able to zone the land on both sides of the King’s Trail,” which allowed the resort to expand the condominium and timeshare offerings that are just nowadays being realized, convincing Mayor Steve Yamashiro to extend the Kona airport runway for jets, and building the shopping centers.”