|By Andrew Gomes, The Honolulu
AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
August 7, 2009 - Robert Allan "Bob" Svoboda, an Amfac executive in Hawai'i during the 1960s who laid claim to developing the first timeshare in the United States, died in Santa Barbara, Calif., last month from sudden cardiac failure. He was 83.
Though Svoboda spent only about a decade living in Hawai'i during a long career in real estate development, insurance and banking, he had a notable role in the development of Ka'anapali, Maui, as a resort destination, and with partners built what he described as the first hotel timeshare in the country.
"Creating the concept and building the first hotel timeshare was not just a chapter in my life, but it was a pivotal event in the development and maturation of the hotel industry," Svoboda wrote on a Web site he created a few years ago.
Svoboda also developed other Hawai'i real estate projects, including a Waikiki hotel. But he was most associated with what he viewed as an early version of timeshare.
The project was called the Hilton Hale Kaanapali, and it was developed in the mid-1960s on land leased from Amfac in partnership with Maui building contractor Erik Jacobsen of Custom Builders Inc. and Hilton Hotels Corp.
Jacobsen had expressed interest in building beachfront rental apartments next to the Royal Lahaina Beach Hotel in Ka'anapali, according to the account by Svoboda, who at the time was property development manager for Amfac, one of Hawai'i's largest private landowners and master developer of Ka'anapali Resort.
Because Ka'anapali's master plan permitted only first-class hotels and resort retail on beachfront land, Svoboda suggested building a luxury hotel with units that would be sold to individual investors who would retain up to four weeks of annual personal use. Hilton would manage the units as hotel rentals and share revenue with owners for the balance of each year.
Some industry observers don't regard the 250-unit project as a timeshare, where unit ownership is typically split among multiple buyers who divide all or nearly all of the "shares" of annual use.
The American Resort Development Association, a national trade association representing the timeshare and resort development industry, said there is much confusion over various business models in the initial stages of timeshare development.
Hilton Hale Kaanapali is regarded by some as a condominium hotel, or condotel, because each unit has only one owner.
In any case, the Maui project created quite a stir -- both from interested buyers and a federal agency regulating the sale of securities.
Several months after construction had begun on the $6.9 million project in late 1965, the Securities and Exchange Commission demanded that the developer halt sales efforts and allow buyers to rescind purchases.
The agency had declared that condos sold with the promise of rental income through a management partner were securities rather than real estate, and as such required the developer to register the project as a security.
"I went from an imaginative and creative real estate developer to a scoundrel overnight," Svoboda recalled on his Web site.
But most buyers stuck with the project, and Svoboda said the publicity increased demand for remaining units that were sold at higher prices.
Hilton Hale Kaanapali added to the budding West Maui resort area, which Svoboda, as Amfac's development chief at the time, predicted would grow from about 1,000 hotel rooms to 4,250 by 1980. Today the resort has about 4,800 hotel rooms.
Svoboda, however, left Amfac in 1967 after a management shakeup, and went on to develop a few other projects, including the 250-room Rodeway Inn across from the Ilikai in Waikiki.
The Hilton project remained a career highlight for Svoboda, who was born in Lewistown, Mont., on May 12, 1926, and lived in a home with no electricity or running water.
Tom Svoboda of Atlanta said his father developed an "I can do it" attitude after being injured in a horse-riding accident when he was 6 years old and spending three years wearing a body cast.
After high school, Bob Svoboda served as an attack transport ship signalman with the U.S. Navy in World War II, a tour of duty in the South Pacific that included stops in Hawai'i where he would later return to visit after returning home to Montana and starting a career in real estate.
Amfac recruited Svoboda in 1963 to work in Hawai'i for the company also known as American Factors Ltd. Svoboda moved to California in the 1970s, but returned to Hawai'i with his wife, Jean, for monthslong stays and bought a condo on Waikiki's Gold Coast that remains in the family.
"They continued to have many friends in Hawai'i and though he loved his home state of Montana from which we came to Hawai'i, there was a part of Hawai'i that never left him," his son said.
Besides his wife of 59 years and son, Svoboda is survived by daughter, Kathy Clester; sister, Carol Ventrell; three grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Private services were held. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow, at El Montecito Presbyterian Church in Montecito, Calif.
Reach Andrew Gomes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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