Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Ferd’s Words | Sports

By Ferd Lewis

February 10, 2021

Eighteen months ago Gov. David Ige signed Act 268 with a pen and a flourish, appropriating $350 million for the state’s part in building the overdue New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District.

“The recent Bruno Mars, Eagles and Guns and Roses concerts, as well as the upcoming L.A. Rams game, make it very clear that Hawaii needs to invest in a new stadium to serve our state for generations to come,” Ige declared grandly.

On Tuesday, from the same office, he was anything but clear. And nowhere near authoritative.

Given an opportunity to walk back his stunning comments of Monday, in which he not only questioned the wisdom of building a new facility but suggested the state invest further in propping up the 46-year-old rust bucket for the University of Hawaii’s use for “many, many years to come,” he chose not to.

With a stage to articulate a vision and a plan, he failed to provide any illumination much less details.

“Right now we are looking at all the options,” Ige said in a manner that raised more questions than it answered.

In this Aloha Stadium once again is the rusted can that keeps getting kicked down a very long road. Ten years ago in his State of the State address, then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie pledged to come up with “a definitive decision on Aloha Stadium and any future stadium we might build.”

Two years ago the passage of Act 268 was supposed to have been the turning point, “breathing new life into Aloha Stadium and surrounding area,” according to the administration.

Now, based on comments Tuesday, who knows?

“We can make improvements to the stadium as necessary,” Ige said. “That being said, you know it’s just the total cost of a replacement that is really hard to fit into the budget based on all the construction needs that we have.”

Act 268 appropriated $20 million in capital, $150 million in general obligation bonds and $180 million in revenue bonds.

While you might be able to direct some of that money to other construction, the biggest chunk is supposed to be repaid by revenue generated by the public-private partnership for which a developer of the 98-acre parcel in Halawa has yet to be selected.

Months ago the state identified three priority-listed, developer-led groups from which it is supposed to eventually solicit requests for proposals. But as this latest drama, on top of last session’s flawed governance bill debacle, plays out you begin to wonder if any of the prospective developers will throw up their hands and go someplace else.

Ige did have one steadfast claim. “We do recognize that (UH) is an important part of our community (and) that we need to find a venue for them to play games in for the next season, and I’m certainly committed and this administration is committed.”

Whether those games take place amid a sea of yellow caution tape surrounding some sections of the current Aloha Stadium, or back on the Manoa campus at a pop-up “stadium” wedged in on the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex, is anybody’s guess.

The long-promised forensic structural analyst’s update on the state of the stadium needs to guide the way. And soon.

If deteriorating Aloha Stadium is deemed safe to be the Rainbow Warriors’ home for 2021 and beyond, then somebody needs to say so. If not and the Rainbow Warriors are going to have to play on campus, then UH could use a timely heads-up and some funding to get it done in time for the Sept. 4 home opener.

But for the sake of all concerned, somebody needs to make a call fairly quickly. And it would be nice if the state’s highest elected official was neither wishy nor washy about it.