Honolulu Star-Advertiser


By Ferd Lewis

November 19, 2020

Now that the University of Hawaii has announced Stanford as the marquee opponent for the 2023 home football opener, will the Rainbow Warriors’ projected new home for that season, the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District, be ready in time?

What UH has done by adding the Cardinal for Sept. 1, 2023, and pushing its originally scheduled home-opening opponent, Albany, back to Sept. 9, is a signal loud and clear that it is ready to open the next chapter with a flourish. (Stanford will also play here in 2025 and UH will go to Stanford in 2026 and 2030).

It also serves as a pointed reminder to the state that it needs to assure an on-time opening of the facility in Halawa for 2023, a place that UH has said it views as “a game-changer” for its future.

The announcement comes as the state is still scrambling to tie up a huge loose end on governance of the NASED project, one that if left unaddressed too much longer, could threaten to push back the stadium’s debut beyond the projected opening.

In May six developer-led groups responded to the state’s request for qualifications and three finalists had been expected to be announced in July or August with the selection of a winner by January.

But the deferral of Senate Bill 2940 in the state legislature that would have transferred governance of the NASED project from the Hawaii Community Development Authority to the Stadium Authority — a key step before issuing a request for proposals — expired July 10, the final day of the legislative session due to a flaw in the measure’s language.

Legislators had hoped for an opportunity to correct the bill in a special session if Congress appropriated additional funds for COVID-19 relief or if Gov. David Ige had summoned lawmakers back to deal with a statewide mandatory face mask bill.

Without a special session, legislators have said they will likely have to wait until the 2021 regular session convenes in January.

The original timetable calls for a developer to be under contract in the first quarter of 2021 and construction to begin in the second quarter to assure on-time delivery of the facility, for which the state has appropriated up to $350 million.

But the delay of Senate Bill 2940 has raised doubts about the ability to meet the September 2023 opening. A consultant for the project warned the Stadium Authority, “The construction period is at least 2.5 years so, looking into the future, you can kind of do your own math when it (the stadium) would be open.”

In the interim, NASED officials have moved to try to have a timely conclusion of the draft environmental impact statement and master plan, which are due next month, and keep prospective bidders in place and apprised of the process.

UH took a big step up in landing Stanford, a team that hasn’t played here since 1972. But if NASED misses that window a less appealing opponent is only part of the potential problems facing the stadium.

A significantly delayed opening could raise costs as much as $20 million, an industry figure has estimated, and continued corrosion of the existing structure could render portions of the stadium unsuitable for use in the meantime.

That would not be the September to remember envisioned for 2023.