WAILEA, Hawaii -- Grand Hyatt Wailea, said to be the most expensive hotel ever built, is also the latest, greatest and probably the last of Hawaii's fantasy mega-resorts.
The pink extravaganza on 42 hillside acres with a view to neighboring islands and the blue Pacific, surrounded by pink stone walkways, bronze sculptures, flowers, pools and a fancy spa, cost $600 million to erect -- or an average of roughly $750,000 for each of its 787 rooms.
The rates start at $350 a night for a comfortable room with three telephones and top out at $8,000 for the 5,000-square-foot Presidential Suites.
The Grand Hyatt Wailea is unquestionably grand, especially in a recessionary year when the Hawaii travel industry has had the jitters ever since tourism took a direct hit during the Gulf War.
Many luxury resort development projects, including a Ritz Carlton at the other end of West Maui, have stalled for lack of investment capital.
And some of the state's famous upscale resorts have experienced financial difficulties.
But developer Takeshi Sekiguchi, president of TSA International Ltd., a partner in several earlier mega-resorts, exhibits unflinching confidence in his crowning achievement.
At the Grand Hyatt Wailea's Grand Opening banquet in early November, Sekiguchi told an audience of meeting planners, media and VIPs that pre- opening sales and the hotel's initial two-month operations already had inspired future bookings of 400,000 room nights, most for corporate meetings, conventions and company-incentive groups.
Sekiguchi also took to task a Washington financial critic who he said publicly predicted the Grand Hyatt Wailea would fail and called its developer 'a lunatic.'
Sekiguchi emphasized his pink masterpiece is not headed for a financial red zone.
'This analyst failed to pay a visit here and failed to study this hotel's financial strength before making such a statement,' Sekiguchi said.
He said he and his partners had invested $282 million in cash equity in the Grand Hyatt Wailea project.
'It is ridiculous to even compare this hotel with other projects where most of the cost is borrowed from banks,' he said.
Sekiguchi, who also built the $200 million Four Seasons Resort next door that shares the same beach, took a personal hand in the Grand Hyatt project, lived on the site before the hotel was open and insisted on the finest of everything.
'Working on a project where cost was not an issue was something totally new for us,' said Pravin Desai, president of CDS International of Honolulu, the architectural firm that designed the hotel. 'We actually had to open up our minds to a new kind of thinking.'
The high-ticket approach gives the Grand Hyatt an air of authenticity. It is genuinely beautiful, decorated with 10,000 flowering plants in the open-air atrium lobby and countless more throughout expansive gardens as well as $30 million worth of original art -- much of it commissioned from Hawaii artists.
And it's fun. Its 2,000-foot 'Action Pool' complex features water slides and grotto-like pools and canyons, complete with a smoking 'volcano' and the world's only water-operated swimmers' elevator.
Beyond the man-made playground is a scenic beach where waves are ideal for body surfing.
The elaborate Spa Grande, which blends spa traditions from the United States, Europe and Japan in a 50,000-square-foot facility, features baths in mud, sand, seaweed or fruit essence, Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, waterfall massage and 'aroma therapy' treatments, among other things. It also has Maui's only racquetball and squash court.
The hotel's five restaurants include the $19 million Kincha, a transplanted Japanese country inn built in the midst of a reflecting pool with atmosphere enhanced by 800 tons of rock scooped from Japan's Mount Fuji and authentic Tokyo management, cuisine and prices.
Guests can amuse themselves in 12 bars -- one of them a laser-lit nightclub with a hydraulic dance floor -- and convention party facilities that include Hawaii's largest ballroom, which can seat 3,500 diners.
Sekiguchi said he felt Hawaii's history and culture are 'super first-class' and he wanted the Grand Hyatt to reflect 'true and high- quality Hawaii.'
The result is a truly remarkable collection of art focusing on Hawaiian themes. For instance, bronze fishermen, locally designed by artist Herb Kane and sculpted by Jan Fisher, are poised with spears and nets in a saltwater lagoon stocked with thousands of live lobsters and planted with coral.NEWLN: