Friday, October 9, 2015         

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Stadium upgrades benched in favor of assessing future

By Ferd Lewis


A planned $59 million upgrade of Aloha Stadium is being put on hold while the state restudies the future of the aging facility.

Hawaii's largest entertainment and sports venue will be 36 this summer, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie said yesterday, "I am proposing we look at what we want to do other than sink money into a structure that has had hundreds of millions of dollars of repairs to this point and requires hundreds of millions more and won't last more than another 20 years."

In his State of the State address, Abercrombie said, "Other than maintenance related to health and safety, I will divert all other capital improvement dollars for Aloha Stadium to other projects. Right now, multimillion-dollar plans to extend the life of Aloha Stadium by 20 years could take 40 years to re-prioritize."

Abercrombie said he will "convene a group of experts and university officials to consider the future of sports and the future development on Oahu to make a definitive decision on Aloha Stadium and any future stadium we might build."

Bruce Coppa, interim comptroller at the Department of Accounting and General Services, said, "I'd like to have it (a recommendation) done in a year. But more importantly, I want to make sure the parties that have an interest in it are satisfied and have input."

The current $71 million refurbishment project, the first in a series of steps to upgrade the stadium, is scheduled to be completed this August, officials said. The project began last year and includes roof replacement, strengthening support for the eight pedestrian concourses, bridges, new seats and handrails.

Replacement of the synthetic turf, at a cost of nearly $2 million, is scheduled to begin March 7 and be completed in time for the 2011 football season.

But state officials said the request for an additional $59 million, which was to be used for construction of a new elevator and additional bathrooms, will be withheld, according to Coppa.

The stadium is now served by one lumbering freight elevator, which also transports patrons with disabilities.

Aloha Stadium Authority Chairman Kevin Chong Kee said, "I feel we should continue with what we were doing. We started to see the results we wanted to see with the work that has been done."

Longer-range plans called for the construction of additional seats, luxury boxes and other enhancements.

The 50,000-seat edifice opened in 1975 at a cost of $32 million and has required several times that amount to remain operational due to age and a series of flaws. The cost of repairing steel that corroded sooner than expected alone cost more than $50 million to repair in the first 25 years.

The state spent $300,000 on a 2005 study that estimated the midrange cost of building a new stadium in "2005 dollars" to be nearly $278.3 million compared with $156.4 million for capital improvements.

"(The Department of Accounting and General Services) considers renovation of Aloha Stadium to be the preferred alternative to construction of a new stadium due to the relatively smaller financial burden this alternative would place on the public," a 2008 draft environmental assessment noted.

Officials have estimated the current cost for a new stadium would likely be upward of $500 million.

Coppa did not rule out turning over the stadium to UH. "I think that's part of why we want the university as part of the advisory committee," he said. "I don't know what the university wants, and I think that is a big consideration — what role do they play? They are a big user of it, as are the swap meets. I think, at the end of the day, that's one of the recommendations the board will have to make."

UH athletic director Jim Donovan, who said he has had discussions with Coppa and Abercrombie, said due to the cost of keeping the stadium in usable condition, "It would probably be unwise for us to take it in its current situation."

The NFL Pro Bowl will be here through 2012 under the current contract. Brian McCarthy, the league's vice president for communications, said, "We have not had any discussions with the governor regarding his vision for Aloha Stadium, our partnership with the Hawaii Tourism Authority or the Pro Bowl, but we look forward to having that opportunity in the near future."

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