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Punt or play at Aiea stadium

LAST UPDATED: 2:05 a.m. HST, Jan 26, 2011

Repairs of rust-plagued Aloha Stadium have been made for decades and have prompted recurring calls to build a new stadium. Neil Abercrombie has called for replacing the stadium in recent years — and now, as governor, he told legislators that he will convene a group of experts to determine if a better outdoor arena should take its place. It's about time — and the right time — to finally decide if the state should stop throwing good money after bad.

Such a move may be expensive in the immediate future but, if built correctly, could be more lucrative in the long run. Either way, Abercrombie is right in saying the University of Hawaii, like other Division I teams, should be in charge of its home stadium instead of having to pay to use it.

The state might be wise to follow what every motorist knows after making large payments in repair bills over and over again to keep the old clunker running. Ten years ago, then-UH President Evan Dobelle proposed tearing down Aloha Stadium and building a 60,000-seat stadium in West Oahu after discussing the idea with Hugh Yoshida, his athletic director, and football coach June Jones.

Dobelle talked about paying for the new stadium by selling the 100 acres where Aloha Stadium sits to private developers, then charging private money for luxury skyboxes along with selling the name rights for the new venue, among other things. Such posh viewing points and corporate names have become commonplace and lucrative at stadiums across the country.

Companies now are halfway through upgrades of Aloha Stadium, including roof replacement, strengthening pedestrian walkways, bridges, new seats and handrails at a cost of $71 million. Replacing synthethic turf in March will cost nearly $2 million — but Abercrombie will withhold an additional $59 million that had been planned for a new elevator and more bathrooms while the stadium's future is decided. He said in his State of the State address Monday that stadium repair funds will be diverted except for those needed for health and safety.

Building a new stadium is figured to cost close to $500 million, a hefty price and project, to be sure. Past legislation aimed at selling development rights to the present stadium grounds to help pay for a new stadium at Kapolei or Kalaeloa has failed in previous sessions.

Another sticking point has been the state's agreement with the federal government that the Aloha Stadium site, once owned by the Navy, be used for public recreation and that it not be transferred by sale, lease or any other means to a private entity. Federal legislation or permission by the U.S. Interior Department would be needed to allow a change of use.

But a changing dynamic is emerging for Oahu, and major factors such as land use, location, capacity and viable uses will need to be part of the stadium discussion.

In the past, concerns have been raised about the stadium being located far from Oahu's population core. However, even that is changing with the surge in housing near Kapolei and with the western point of rail transit planned nearby. In fact, the prudent development possibilities opening up with rail stations planned at west Oahu, UH-West Oahu and the current Aloha Stadium sites make the timing ideal for a thorough stadium review — and decision.

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