By Nina Wu, Jason Kaneshiro and Timothy Hurley
December 18, 2020
Updated 12:01 a.m.
After 45 years, Aloha Stadium — Hawaii’s Rust Palace, which has hosted University of Hawaii Warriors football, NFL Pro Bowls, Major League Baseball, Bruno Mars, the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson — is shutting down at least three years before a replacement stadium will be built.
The Aloha Stadium Authority announced Thursday it has placed a “temporary moratorium” on new events and reduced operations at the venue due to ongoing COVID-19 safety restrictions and budgetary issues.
Stadium officials said in a news release that the pandemic restrictions have severely limited revenue- generation opportunities. Safety has also been an issue for the 50,000-seat stadium, which is to be replaced with a 35,000-seat venue in 2023 or 2024.
>> PHOTOS: Aloha Stadium over the years
All events reserved prior to Thursday’s decision will still be honored, the authority said, including the Hula Bowl in January. Activities in the parking lot — including the drive-thru holiday wonderland fundraiser and Saturday swap meets — will continue.
“It is with a heavy heart that we make this difficult decision,” said Ross Yamasaki, chairman of the Stadium Authority, in the news release. “Aloha Stadium has been expending its reserves to maintain operations since COVID-19 restrictions began. Unfortunately, we have reached a stage where we can no longer afford to continue these expenditures. It is our hope that we can find a long-term solution but for now, must make these changes to reduce expenses and generate revenue through activities in the parking lot and events that have already been booked.”
Yamasaki said the inability to host major events for the past nine months resulted in a cash flow shortfall.
Other events already confirmed or in the planning, including the Great Aloha Run and high school graduations for next year, are being discussed. The authority might consider hosting other events, but additional operational expenses will be put on the licensee.
“This is a very sad day for the Aloha Stadium, and the decision affects all of our stakeholders including high school athletics, concerts and the University of Hawaii,” said Yamasaki in a statement. “We continue to look for long-term solutions, but for now, we must work through this situation and respond to our entire staff, sponsors, clients and vendors.”
Issues with rust have been an ongoing problem for the aging facility, which is also facing a total projected deficit of $3.9 million for the fiscal year, according to a budget report presented to the authority Thursday.
A 2018 structural and safety evaluation report by a structural engineering firm found “severe corrosion” in hundreds of places.
The latest development is a blow to the University of Hawaii Warriors football team, which uses the stadium as home base and hosted five games this season, even though no fans were allowed. The closure could also affect high school football as well as other spectator events such as concerts and graduations.
“I just think it’s such a disastrous development to shut down the stadium,” said state Sen. Glen Wakai. “But I understand it’s another victim of COVID and there’s just not enough revenues coming in for the stadium to operate as it has been in the past.”
Wakai added, “I just feel especially for the University of Hawaii. Where in the world are they going to be playing their football games for the next three seasons until we complete the new stadium?”
Ben Ayson of Kaneohe, a longtime UH season-ticket holder, was sad to hear the news.
“I’m sad but not surprised at all,” said Ayson, whose grandparents and parents also went to football games at the stadium. “I totally can see if there are infrastructure issues.”
The men’s bathroom, for one, had a major plumbing problem the last time he remembered using it, and none of the toilets or urinals were flushing. Ayson also had a running joke with friends over the cup-holders for his season seats in a top row, which were so flimsy that cups would slide right off of them.
“As you’re walking down the bridges that separate the corners of each section, you can feel them shake,” he said. “Another thing is as you’re walking down those stairs, you can see underneath the bleachers.”
Ayson said he has been going to Aloha Stadium since he was a kid, and had a flood of memories for the past few decades.
The Aloha Stadium is where he saw Michael Jackson concerts, professional wrestling matches that brought stars like Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan, Major League Baseball games and monster truck shows. A few years ago it was where Bruno Mars held his concerts to sold-out crowds.
Ayson said he “loved those seats and the people I got to know sitting all around me.”
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the situation was unfortunate.
“Aloha Stadium serves as such a special place with so many great memories for the people of Oahu, like UH football games, the Pro Bowl, prep football games, high school graduations, and the many concerts that filled the space,” said Caldwell in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that there will be no new events at the Stadium but the health and safety of our community must come first. Similar venues have had to drastically change how they operate during this pandemic and without the resources in-place to continue safe operations, I support this decision by the Stadium Authority to place a temporary moratorium on new events.”
Asked about the stadium at a state House legislative hearing Thursday, UH President David Lassner said it was a “great concern” to the university.
“It’s pretty serious to us,” he said. “If we can’t have fans there, we need to identify another place to play for fall 2021. So it’s gonna be a real challenge.”
Lassner said he expects to talk to the Stadium Authority, as a new stadium is at least three years away.
“The project isn’t really out of the starting gate yet, so this is of great concern to us,” he said.
Still, Lassner said he’s optimistic about having fans in seats next season, and it’s possible the football team could play on an on-campus facility or a high school field.
“We are beyond disappointed of the news at today’s announcement from the Aloha Stadium Authority that there will be no further events in the current stadium with fans,” UH athletic director David Matlin said in a statement issued by the university. “Aloha Stadium has such a storied history and carries so many memories for our football program and generations of Hawaii families. We must now take responsibility ourselves to find a suitable venue for our Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii’s football team, to play in front of our loyal fans beginning in 2021.”
Just last week three developers were selected as finalists to present building proposals for the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District. The winner is to be selected next year, and the new stadium is projected to open in late 2023 or early 2024. The state has pledged $350 million as its share of the project.
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