Pacific Business News

Sports Business

By Brian McInnis

February 10, 2021

A sentiment shared by Gov. David Ige this week on keeping existing Aloha Stadium operational instead of going ahead on development of a new stadium district was met a rebuke from within the state Legislature.

Ige, who first voiced his desire to see 46-year-old Aloha Stadium maintained during the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii segment on Monday, elaborated during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Tuesday that he thought the $350 million cost for the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District in Halawa was better spent in areas like public schools or health care.

“My comments was based on the fact that, my understanding is that the stadium is structurally sound,” Ige said. “As you know, we’ve been averaging a lot less” — he paused — “people in the audience viewing games. There’s things we can do to prolong the life of the stadium if we are unable to come up with the funds necessary to totally rebuild a new stadium. Right now we are looking at all the options. We recognize that the University of Hawaii is an important part of our community, that we need to find a venue for them to play games in for the next season. I’m certainly committed and the administration is committed to make sure that they do have a place to play in the upcoming season.”

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, reached Tuesday night by Pacific Business News, said he hoped Ige’s comments would be a “one-off” and the mixed-use, public-private partnership project, slated for a late 2023 completion, would proceed as envisioned.

“I think the Legislature is going to do what it has to and go through the process. And whatever the House and Senate agree to, it’ll probably get sent up to the governor,” said Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “[Ige] has the prerogative to veto the bill, and the Legislature has the prerogative, if they see fit, to override. I’m hoping it’s not going to come to that. I think we need as many economic development strategies as possible, and we haven’t had too many of that from the administration.”

UH has proposed its own plan to play football on its Manoa campus through at least 2023, at an up-front cost of $6 million, while the new stadium is constructed. The Aloha Stadium Authority placed a moratorium on new events in December because of budget problems and maintenance issues.

Ige signed off on the NASED project in summer 2019. Meanwhile, past estimates pegged annual maintenance costs to keep Aloha Stadium operational in the $20 million-$30 million range.

Ige was asked Tuesday if his comments on the stadium had to do with the general state of the economy. The state’s general fund tax revenue through January was down 9.4% year-over-year, about a $411 million cumulative difference for the fiscal year.

“It’s not so much that it would save the state [money], per se, because it is [Capital Improvements Program] cost,” Ige said. “We are in a much stronger position because of the low interest rate environment for bonds in general, we are able to access the bond market in better condition than we are in the operating budget. So we can make improvements to the stadium as necessary. That being said, it’s just the total cost of a replacement that’s really hard to fit into the budget based on all the construction needs that we have.”

Dela Cruz argued that construction was one of three reasons why the NASED project should go through.

“We need to support economic development right now,” the senator said. “With tourism down, construction is really our only tool to help normalize the economy, because there’s been so little effort in some of the other areas like tech, cyber, [agriculture], there hasn’t been as much movement as we would like in those areas. Construction is something that we know, if we put money toward, we can get people working.

“Two, by doing a public-private partnership, and working with the private sector, the state can share its liabilities. It’s not just the state putting it all up.

“Three, if we just go ahead and fixed [the stadium] with existing monies to deal with any kind of patchwork fixes, then the general fund is still subsidizing maintenance and operations. The whole idea to develop the whole [NASED] is so that we could have economic development, help with housing, create new retail opportunities for our community. It’s [transit oriented development] right next to the rail station. … The other thing is that we want to create revenue for the ongoing operations and maintenance.”

A period for public testimony on the NASED’s drafted environmental impact statement was completed on Feb. 8.