Honolulu Civil Beat

By Blaze Lovell

April 25, 2021

Construction of the new Aloha Stadium would speed up under a measure the Legislature is expected to pass this week.

The bill, on which lawmakers reached tentative agreement on Friday, would grant the Stadium Authority the ability to hold title to the 90-acre site surrounding the stadium and lead development on those lands in coming years.

The authority is a nine-member board with representatives from the public, private and nonprofit sectors who oversee the stadium’s activities. Under the proposed bill, House Bill 1348, the board would be able to take charge of planning and designing the area, called the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District.

“We need to have a firm foundation to build all the parts of this dynamic district,” Sen. Glenn Wakai, a stadium proponent and lead negotiator on the bill, said. “To the public, it’s not super sexy, but we need a solid foundation. If you don’t have a solid foundation, all the walls will be caving in later.”

The board would also be able to repair stadium facilities and enter into contracts for food, concessions, parking, sponsorship and advertising agreements for the new stadium. Under the bill, two new community members from neighborhood boards in Aiea and Salt Lake would also become voting members on the board.

Lawmakers have been trying to transfer development authority to the stadium board for several years.

In 2019, the Legislature approved the current management regime, which envisions the Stadium Authority sharing responsibilities with the Hawaii Community Development Authority and the state Department of Accounting and General Services.

Last year, a measure similar to HB 1348 stalled over objections from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs over provisions in the bill regarding public land leases. Those concerns appear to have been smoothed out this year.

A previous draft of HB 1348 gave the University of Hawaii a voting member, but the latest draft removed that provision.

Previous drafts of HB 1348 also allowed the state to sell $350 million worth of general obligation bonds to cover some of the costs for the stadium. It’s a proposition that could put taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in the coming decades, but one state officials hope would be offset by a successful real estate development expected to surround the stadium.

However, lawmakers on Friday amended that allocation to $170 million. Lawmakers are set to vote on the latest draft of HB 1348 this week.

Residents say they are concerned about the public expense of the project.

“It’s a very large cost. My concern is that those costs get shifted to contractor and other folks who are not here locally in Hawaii,” Stephen Wood, chairman of the Aiea neighborhood board, said during a recent segment of “Insights On PBS Hawaii.” He added that he hopes some of the real estate will be set aside for small businesses.

Wood also raised concerns over the number of housing units in the development, how it will handle traffic and parking and bus routes that feed into the stadium’s rail station.

On the same PBS Hawaii program, Ross Yamasaki, the chairman of the Stadium Authority, tried to allay fears that the stadium site would turn into another tourist trap or include housing too expensive for locals.

“We’re not trying to create another Waikiki. We’re not trying to create another Kapalua,” Yamasaki said. “We have those areas in all the other islands. What we don’t have is a big stadium venue and sports-entertainment district.”

The state is in the process of choosing one of three development teams competing to build the stadium.

The stadium’s request for proposals, a technical document that provides more details on project financials, goals and expected outcomes, is expected to be released in July.

Meanwhile, the state has begun consulting developers on what should be done with the stadium’s surrounding real estate. Two separate teams — one that will construct the stadium and another that will develop the surrounding real estate — are expected to be selected in the first quarter of 2022.

The real estate developer will have to adhere to some guidelines for the project, such as the Halawa transit-oriented development plan, which calls for retail areas, a diverse mix of housing and connection to public transit.

However, Stacey Jones, principle of the lead stadium designer Crawford Architects, says officials don’t want to constrict developers too much.

“We aren’t being terribly prescriptive, and the reason for that is that we have a very good idea of what we would like to see, but we also want to make sure that we don’t choke innovation by being too descriptive and therefore too prescriptive of what we would like to see,” Jones said at a news conference Tuesday.