Mayor Caldwell cancels Blaisdell renovations due to ongoing rail costs

Local News

On Monday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell released a statement explaining the cancellation of renovation plans for the Neal Blaisdell Center. The statement is as follows:

“The City has determined that it is not prepared to go forward with the major renovation of the Neal Blaisdell Center at this time. Given that the final construction cost is yet unknown for the last 4.16 miles of our rail system and the City’s financial responsibilities for the operations of the upcoming rail service, in addition to a new administration and City Council starting in less than one year, we decided that it is a logical time to pause the project.  This is disappointing as we fully believe that major renovations are needed in order for the Blaisdell to best serve the community and to attract world-class events and attractions to Honolulu for our local residents.

“For the short term, we plan to now focus on addressing some much needed deferred maintenance and to keep the Blaisdell as fully operational as possible during the maintenance projects.  In addition, for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2021 budget, we’ll be considering the significant renovation of one or more of our performance venues, at a reduced scope and cost.  I want to emphasize that the planning and design for a modernized Neal Blaisdell Center resulted in an excellent and exciting vision for this facility, and I hope that the future administration will take advantage of it, in whole or in part.  I also urge the continuation of exploring the public-private partnership route as a means to share the financial risks and to obtain professional management of the facility.  The Neal Blaisdell Center is an important asset to the people of this city, it is part of our collective memories and shared history, and it deserves to be included in our commitment to upgrade and enhance the city’s infrastructure so that we can continue to thrive as a people.”

The initial cost estimates for the Blaisdell renovations were upwards of $700 million.

“I’m happy they are finally listening and realizing taxpayers are not out there with their wallets open ready to pay,” said City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.

Kobayashi says she’s been concerned about this for a while and this decision should’ve been made sooner.

“How much has already been spent on this? They hired architects and designers because I’ve seen elaborate plans, so how much was that?”

The total spent on this project to date is $16.9-million. The contract was negotiated for the Feasibility Study, the Master Plan, and the 30% Schematic Design and detailed budget, according to city officials.

Honolulu City Councilmember Kym Pine said in a statement:

“I spoke out against this project last fall because our residents struggle with infrastructure problems, dangerous roads and dilapidated parks all over the island and spending millions on renovating the entertainment facility just didn’t make sense for the City. I’m glad to see we are rethinking priorities and refocusing on spending taxpayer money responsibly.”

The company that brought big-name entertainers to Hawaii like Diana Ross and Mariah Carey tells us it’s glad to hear the NBC is not closing down for renovations so shows can still come in but in the end concert-goers lose out.

“They were going to add more seats and they were going to remodel the place, make it more modern. A more modern functional facility and the reality is the fewer seats you have, the harder it is to get artists to come in and the more expensive the ticket prices are,” said Rick Bartalini of Rick Bartalini Presents.

Kobayashi tells us we need to be careful and vigilant with spending, meaning other projects should also be reconsidered.

“I think many things should be put on hold.”

KHON asks, “Do you have anything in mind?”

“Some of the parks, well some have already been done like Thomas Square. We spent over $4-million on that but as I say the first thing I want to know is what is the final cost of rail,” said Kobayashi.

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