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"People call me a restaurateur," he says, "when I can't cook eggs. I can't even read a French menu. I was just providing basic business principles to the restaurant business. That's all I've done with all my businesses." In essence Hemmeter is an idea man, one who comes up with the solution that makes a project pay.
His latest business project, and his most ambitious, is the $150 million Hemmeter Center being built in Waikiki. To finance its showpiece, a hotel overlooking the beach, Hemmeter needed a $65 million mortgage, 50% larger than any mortgage ever given previously in the state. "I had to come up with an innovative concept that had high earnings potential but was still conservative, because the project itself would have to be the collateral," he says. What Hemmeter came up with was a 40-story, twin-towered hotel (the highest building in Honolulu), the towers connected by a Great Hall more than 100 yards long and 10 stories high at some points. There will be 16 waterfalls in the Great Hall, three of them five stories high; 60 shops on three different tiers; a dozen restaurants and nightclubs. Each hotel accommodation will have a bedroom and a living room area.
Now that that project is well under way Hemmeter has turned his attention to football. He admits that getting involved with it in the first place was a mistake. His participation was something of a civic gesture. Honolulu was building a 50,000-seat stadium, but no one was coming forward to bankroll the Hawaiians. "I feel like such a fool," he says of last year's disaster. "That's why I'm doing all this, to show people that it can be done. I don't mind losing money, but when you lose it looking like a fool, well, that's not my idea of a good time."
There are other motivations. Last year Hemmeter got a lot of friends and associates to invest in the Hawaiians with him. "I want a reputation that says, if you invest with me I'll do everything possible to protect that investment," he says. "Otherwise, people will say, 'Sure he's had a lot of successes, but he was also the guy that had that WFL thing." However, Hemmeter claims, it is the creative challenge that intrigues him even more.
"The bigger the challenge the happier I am," he says. "I started the biggest project in the history of Hawaii, and this WFL thing was the biggest sports disaster in history."
Last week, in a rare moment of relaxation, Hemmeter reflected on the state of sport. "I don't think any professional sports league today is totally stable," he said. "They're all disasters waiting to happen. It just so happened that the WFL was first. But I think this is the league of the future. I don't delude myself into thinking my plan is the savior of sports as an industry, but it can be the savior of sports as a financial entity, and there's a keen distinction. This plan will allow the WFL to endure as a financial entity, and let it exploit itself on the field where it belongs."
He had warmed to his subject and suddenly—and uncharacteristically—he allowed himself to get carried away. "The plan is mathematically infallible," he declared.