New stadium on fast-track to 2023 opening

Always Investigating

Nearly 50,000 people packed Aloha Stadium for Saturday’s Rams-Cowboys game, but it could be one of the last events of its kind to take place in that facility. Always Investigating reports on plans to redevelop the stadium district by 2023. A new facility is being fast-tracked with big money earmarked and a lot of different agencies involved.

It’s been a long-slow uphill push over more than a decade to do something as Aloha Stadium ages ever closer to the end of its useful life.

“It costs us $20 million to $30 million a year just to keep that current facility standing,” said state Sen. Glenn Wakai, (D), who chairs the Senate’s Energy, Economic Development and Tourism committee and whose district includes the Salt Lake area near the stadium. “I mean, there’s no reason to put more money into an old jalopy.”

Suddenly this past legislative session, replacing the stadium got a green light on a wide-open fast lane and a $350 million jump start.

“We’re elated,” said Ross Yamasaki, chairman of the Stadium Authority. “To use a sports metaphor, this is as close to the goal line as we’ve ever come before.”

As public projects go, it’s supposed to happen at a record pace.

“They’re pretty upbeat and optimistic about having a new stadium ready for the football season in 2023,” said Aedward Los Banos, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which the stadium-money law injected into the mix this year.

Asked if they can make the 2023 deadline, Los Banos said: “We’re going to try our best.”

HCDA will work alongside the Stadium Authority, under the state’s Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS), which already has an E.I.S. process underway. The city’s rail authority HART is on the scene, too, where rail’s T.O.D. or transit-oriented development zoning and planning was underway. Stadium RFI’s (requests for interest) may be solicited later this year, and RFPs (requests for proposals) from private bidders to develop the nearly 100-acre Aloha Stadium Entertainment District may be released by mid-2020.

“That’s alphabet soup that they (developers) are not concerned about,” Yamasaki said of the many layers of agencies and procedures ahead. “It’s state of Hawaii.”

Always Investigating asked, is the goal to keep the taxpayer bill around the $350 million level?

“That’s all the money that they gave me,” Los Banos said, “so that’s where we tap out at. That’s why we put the whole 98 acres, or a portion thereof, into the solicitation to provide other revenue sources or other areas for the developer to regain its costs.”

Redevelopment is likely to take place in phases. Many other locales have built their new stadiums near the old one prior to tearing down the outdated facilities. The agencies say to expect a much denser use of the space than presently exists, likely with vertical parking garages instead of large flat lot areas.

“Long gone are the days when you have a standalone stadium surrounded by a parking lot,” Wakai said. “That’s not the best and highest use for state lands.”

While that may be music to a lot of ears of fans looking forward to more dining, entertainment and even lodging options, what about others who use the wide-open parking lot such as the state fair and the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace?

“There’s a home for them, perhaps maybe not at Aloha Stadium,” Wakai said. “There are other venues. We have Central Oahu Regional Park. We have the Leeward Community College parking lot. They should be having a discussion with the stadium as to help me find a better location.”

Swap meet vendors say they’re worried about the future

“The office told us they don’t know yet, so we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” said Amy Chen who works for swap meet vendor CHC, a 20-year tenant of the retail operation that takes place several times a week. “I’m a little bit worried, you know.”

Asked if they have an alternative for where they might go, Chen responds: “I don’t know, but I wish we could still stay here and do the business. This is very special here for Hawaii.”

“If they’re going to be formal retail and all that, that takes away the authenticity of a swap meet,” said Chris Tesche, who works at the Hawaii Tour Experts booth at the swap meet. “They come here for the laid-back feel, the more chill vibes. If everything starts moving fast like the mainland and starts looking like the mainland, why would people come here?”

HCDA and Stadium Authority officials hope small businesses can stay in the mix somehow.

“All the character of that stadium stop, and the stadium that exist currently, I think we’ve got to keep that and make it part of the character and integrating that into the design,” Los Banos said. “Even if you have a park-and-ride type of situation, I could see something like a night market being very successful, get off the train, pick up dinner and head home.”

“I think if it’s part of the community and it serves a benefit, then it’s part of it,” Yamasaki said. “We consider all of the tenants. How do you then fold all of those uses in, find a way for the new stadium to generate revenue, keep it going, keep it in good condition, raise the revenue, raise the level of customer service?”

The stadium itself is likely to be smaller capacity — in the 30,000- to 40,000-seat range.

“I know there are people who are going to argue somehow we should build bigger, somehow entice the NFL to come back, but we should really be building for what we need, Wakai said. “The reailty is we’re not going to ever get an NFL franchise here, we’re never going to host the Olympics here.”

As for the showcase football games like the Rams-Cowboys or the long-gone days of the Pro Bowl, Wakai said, “These are going to be one-offs. So maybe next year we can get the Raiders since their facility won’t be ready for the upcoming 2020 season. The likelihood of us getting a regular season football game… no football team is going to want to give up the revenue off a home game.”

A new stadium may have more options for field configurations to fit soccer and rugby, and of course college and high school football.

“We can really expand our reach to the whole state and neighbor island communities as well,” Yamasaki said. “Folks can come over, take rail two stations away from the airport, stay over, dine eat play see an event, so things like that make it more accessible.”

“We always forget that right across the street is the No. 1 tourist attraction on Oahu, we have 1.8 million people that go to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and have absolutely no reason to stick around after they see the memorial,” Wakai said. “Now we have a reason for them to say, why don’t you go across the street, why don’t you go shopping, why don’t you go eat some great Hawaiian food and why don’t you go get entertained?

In light of the stadium re-build, two Honolulu City Councilmembers have asked the city administration to re-evaluate viability of a $770 million Neal S. Blaisdell Center makeover, a project slated to screen qualified private partners this fall. The resolution signed by Carol Fukunaga and Ann Kobayashi states, “Redevelopment for both the Blaisdell and the Aloha Stadium involve plans for facilities to accommodate and target similar events and audiences for both venues, which may affect the anticipated use and revenue…”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell tells Always Investigating: “The administration does not support this resolution. Aloha Stadium and the Neal Blaisdell Center are two completely different venues, and Honolulu residents have utilized the Blaisdell to capacity for decades. There is strong interest from private partners to ensure that the Blaisdell can attract the level of entertainment that Honolulu and future generations deserve.”

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