Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Hawaii News

By Andrew Gomes

January 31, 2021

Redevelopment project leaders have been aiming to produce a new 35,000-seat stadium in time for the 2023 University of Hawaii football season, but that timetable has been in doubt.

Redeveloping the state’s deteriorating Aloha Stadium with a private partner could speed up this year under a “super power” bill introduced at the Legislature.

The bill introduced Wednesday would give the Stadium Authority, a state agency managing the 50,000-seat stadium, broader powers for redevelopment and is aimed at overcoming time lost last year when lawmakers couldn’t agree on a measure to advance the more than $300 million project.

Sen. Glenn Wakai, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation would give the Stadium Authority super powers regarding procurement, permitting and other things.

“I’m calling this the Stadium Avenger Authority,” he told the agency’s board at a meeting Thursday, referencing a group of Marvel superheroes.

The measure, Senate Bill 1423, would statutorily attach the agency to the Hawaii Community Development Authority, a state agency that has broad regulatory tools for land redevelopment mainly limited to Kakaako and Kalaeloa.

However, unlike a 2019 decision to have HCDA take the lead fostering redevelopment of the 98-acre stadium site owned by the state, S.B. 1423 would give the Stadium Authority the same powers as HCDA and sole jurisdiction over the stadium site.

“We don’t want to have too many layers of government, so we’re not going to put the Stadium Authority under HCDA,” Wakai said. “You are going to be the board for this new district.”

Wakai added: “If this bill passes, you’re going to be able to move the process along quicker than if you were any other government agency.”

Redevelopment project leaders have been aiming to produce a new 35,000-seat stadium in time for the 2023 University of Hawaii football season, but that timetable has been in doubt.

Urgency further increased last month when the Stadium Authority announced an indefinite suspension of future events in the 46-year-old facility, with a few exceptions, because budget reserves were being drained by maintenance and little revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This move forced UH into a scramble to play football games for the upcoming season somewhere else.

The state Department of Accounting and General Services in December identified three preferred private development partners and has a goal to pick a winning partner by the end of this year. But DAGS has yet to publish a request for proposals specifying key provisions the three competitors would have to meet in their bid proposals.

A winning bidder would then have to negotiate detailed terms for financing, building and maintaining the new facility along with rights to redevelop surrounding state land possibly with housing, retail and other uses under a land lease.

This complex effort was upset last year when the Legislature failed to pass a bill to have the Stadium Authority replace HCDA heading procurement.

The new bill, which mirrors a bill introduced in the House, would have the Stadium Authority lead procurement using HCDA powers and also give the Stadium Authority title to the redevelopment site.

S.B. 1423 also would allow a land lease with a developer to run 99 years, which is something the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs opposed last year but now supports, according to Wakai.

Wakai said a 99-year lease, instead of 65 years, will allow a developer to produce a better project because its investment can be bigger if amortized over a longer period.

Another provision in the bill would add two new members to the Stadium Authority’s nine-member board. The new positions would be filled by residents of surrounding communities.

The bill also would allow HCDA to delegate its existing responsibility for authorizing state spending on the project to another agency, and would create a special fund to hold any state financial contributions to the project along with revenue from stadium operations.

Wakai’s co-sponsor of the bill is Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. The House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, whose district includes the stadium.

Sen. Bennette Misalucha, whose district includes the stadium, told the Stadium Authority she supports Wakai’s efforts and the so-called Stadium Avenger Authority.

“I’ll be his Robin to his Batman,” she said. “I’ll support whatever he espouses.”

Stadium Authority member John Fink thanked Wakai, who worked on the bill with Chris Kinimaka, public works administrator at DAGS.

“That’s all very good news,” Fink said after Wakai’s presentation.

“All of us have worked hard to pick up the ball from last year, so to speak, and take it down field,” Wakai said, referring to Kinimaka, Misalucha and bill sponsors. “We got to get it across the goal line this year.”