LAST OF 2 PARTS
With brilliant Waianae Range sunsets on one side, placid Pearl Harbor and the towering Koolaus on others, the views from Aloha Stadium on game days have few rivals.
But the future of the 40-year-old facility is a lot less pronounced.
The Aloha Stadium Authority, an appointed nine-member board that oversees the state’s largest entertainment facility, is in the midst of a — so far — 14-month, $405,000 state-ordered study to help determine the fate of the aging edifice.
At issue is whether the state should renovate the 98.6-acre Halawa facility or build a new one? And if a successor is to be constructed, where, in what size and at what cost?
They are questions that have surrounded the controversial facility for at least two decades, ever since repair and maintenance costs began tripling and quadrupling the original $37 million cost of construction.
A January 2014 state Department of Accounting and General Services study estimated $120 million in high priority health and safety improvements would be required to keep the 50,000-seat facility operational for five to 10 years. It did not account for so-called medium or low-priority improvements on the capital improvement schedule or unanticipated problems and rising costs, according to another study.
In the meantime, two separate studies, one commissioned on behalf of the Stadium Authority and another by University of Hawaii athletic director Ben Jay, have called for new, smaller stadiums in the 30,000-35,000 range at $132 million-$192 million in 2014 dollars, exclusive of infrastructure improvements.
Meanwhile, there have been, by at least one analyst’s count, 294 documents (studies, investigations and reports) devoted to understanding and evaluating Aloha Stadium over the years. That’s an average of more than seven per year through the stadium’s 40-year existence.
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Aloha Stadium, which debuted in 1975, is said to be one of the few major state or municipal stadiums of its era to still be standing and without extensive renovations or expansion.
For example, among 10 pro facilities built between 1968 and 1975 surveyed, only the New Orleans Superdome and Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium are still in regular use, as Aloha Stadium is.
The Superdome has undergone more than $300 million in renovations beyond Katrina repair work and Arrowhead has received $375 million in upgrades.
Among college stadiums of that vintage, industry experts say most have undergone major renovations. "I’d say 90 percent of them have had renovations or expansion," said Mike Holleman, vice president and director of sports facility design for Heery International, which has done work on 50 campuses.
This year two major college football stadiums debuted, the University of Houston’s $120 million, 40,000-seat TDECU Stadium, and Baylor’s $250 million, 45,000-seat McLane Stadium.
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>> Opened: 1975
A look at Aloha Stadium and two possible replacements suggested in two separate reports:
Commissioned by UH
>> Seating: 30,585 seats plus 530 lawn seats
FOLEY & LARDNER REPORT
Commissioned by the state
>> Seating: 30,000-40,000
In his first State of the State speech in January 2011, newly installed Gov. Neil Abercrombie deemed it of significant importance to pledge a "definitive decision on Aloha Stadium and any future stadium we might build" while putting $59 million in planned upgrades to the facility on hold.
But four years later he is destined to leave office without one.
"To me it was just a ploy for election year," said Kevin Chong Kee, who served 6 1/2 years on the Stadium Authority under the Linda Lingle and Abercrombie administrations. "Other than that, it was back to normal. It is still the same, nothing has happened."
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said, "The question has always been the location — where would we put a (new stadium)? We asked them, the administration, to come up with something before and they didn’t."
People who said they had been briefed said the Abercrombie administration strongly favored the current stadium location, especially with a HART station to be built on the property.
The current study by the New York firm of Foley & Lardner wasn’t commissioned until September 2013, and is in Phase 3 of a planned eight-phase process. Estimates are the process could run through 2015.
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When Ben Cayetano occupied Washington Place as governor (1994-2002) he promoted the idea of relocating the stadium to West Oahu as a way to build a modern stadium at an affordable cost to the state.
"I thought we should have built a new stadium, one that was solely for football, but put it more toward Kapolei, where the university had a lot of land," Cayetano said.
Cayetano wasn’t alone. In 2001 then-UH President Evan Dobelle lobbied for a 50,000-60,000 seat stadium to be built on university land adjacent to West Oahu, part of his blueprint to help advance the athletic program’s avowed goal of eventual Pac-10 membership.
Cayetano said, "It wasn’t acceptable (to the Legislature) then…but I still think we need a new stadium there."
The vision, Cayetano said, originated with former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi. "Fasi had this idea of moving the stadium and developing something else there (in Halawa)."
With limited state resources, Cayetano said, "I still think that is a thought that should be explored. Turn (the Halawa) land over to private developers and use the proceeds to defray the costs of the new stadium."
"The financing of any stadium would be the big issue," said State Sen. Brian Taniguchi. "I don’t think we’d be able to do it with obligation bonds."
Construction of a new stadium, the Foley & Lardner study suggests, "would likely decrease the state’s annual operating expenses without decreasing revenue. It said full-time staff for a 30,000- to 35,000-seat facility would cost approximately "$3.7 million to $4.5 million" to operate. "For comparison purposes, the stadium’s average annual operating expenses for the past three years were approximately $6.9 million per year and did not include any capital improvement reserve payments, meaning that a new stadium could save the State between $2.4 million and $3.2 million annually in operating expenses alone
Jim Hallstrom of the Hallstrom Group, prominent local real estate consultants and appraisers, said the 98-acre stadium parcel, which is zoned residential, has an assessed valuation of $34,208,800. If it were to be upzoned for commercial use, the valuation would double or triple, Hallstrom said.
One hurdle to any sale, officials acknowledge, is that much of the land is currently limited in use by two deed restrictions placed on the property when it was turned over to the state. One is federal and the other city, and potential developers would want both removed.
The 1967 federal deed, covering 56 acres, limits use to public park and recreational uses, while the 1970 state deed, taking in 41 acres, requires use for "a public stadium project together with all appurtenant facilities and improvement for service and concession facilities."
The Stadium Authority is three years into a process to have the restrictions lifted and is said to be in negotiations with both the city and the state. In the case of the feds, a swap of land on Maui, as permitted by the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act, has recently been discussed, officials said.
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The University of Hawaii athletic program’s future was a driving force in then-Gov. John A. Burns’ decision to build Aloha Stadium, and the Rainbow Warriors have been the prime tenant since the facility opened.
At its height, UH attendance averaged more than 40,000 through the turnstiles in the 1980s and early 1990s and reached 41,325 in the Sugar Bowl season of 2007.
But UH hasn’t had a sellout in seven years and turnouts averaged fewer than 30,000 over the past four seasons.
The Foley & Lardner report, which said it included interviews with 36 stakeholders, said "the (UH) suggested that a site closer to the university’s campus would be preferable, but noted that the current stadium site is a workable location (though any site further to the west would not be workable). (UH) suggested the site of William McKinley High School as a potential alternative site."
But it also notes that McKinley sits on "approximately eight acres" and "given that a modern football stadium footprint is approximately 12 acres, without parking, this is likely not a viable alternative.
Jay said his own, UH-commissioned $15,000 study, which was revealed in June and to be paid for out of donated funds, was "not site-specific to any particular area." He said, "My whole intention was to get an idea of what a new stadium of about 30,000 seats would cost."
The Gensler architectural firm of Los Angeles said a 30,585-seat multi-purpose stadium would cost $165 million to $190 million, depending on whether a partial roof is included.
Jay said he turned the Gensler report over to the Stadium Authority and Foley & Lardner because "any decision that is made will be done by the state. The university isn’t building a stadium. That’s the state’s call."
People in the industry say the UH design and its smaller footprint — 10.65 acres, not including parking — would be a "classic" fit in a modern urban core location similar to the old Honolulu Stadium, provided transportation alternatives were available.
Honolulu Stadium which, operated from 1926 and 1975, had a listed seating capacity of 24,000 but was sometimes reported to have held as many as 30,000. Parking was for 87 cars, when it didn’t rain.
UH officials say the school’s Manoa quarry area would also not be suitable without extensive and financially prohibitive renovation.
In addition to a lack of space and limited vehicle access, previous surveys of the lower campus area have cited severe infrastructure shortcomings, officials said.
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Holleman, whose firm has worked on projects for 50 schools, including UH’s Stan Sheriff Center, said a major consideration for any pro or college facility these days is amenities, such as suites and sky boxes. And, of course, public transportation access or parking.
At a public hearing in July, the Hawaii Tourism Authority told the Stadium Authority it believes "the seating capacity of 35,000-40,000 would be sufficient with the inclusion of luxury or VIP boxes/suites" and expandable temporary seating.
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A Foley & Lardner study for the state said stakeholders "indicated there would be appetite in the community for premium seats (both luxury suites and/or club seating) and premium parking. Generally, stakeholders indicated 20 to 28 luxury suites and a club seating section would be sustainable by the local business community."
Aloha Stadium parking has been taxed when attendance surpasses 28,000. It has been reduced by construction this year and will be further impacted upon the completion of HART and the "Live, Work, Play" Aiea project, as well as any redevelopment of the current site, the Foley & Lardner study says.
Although officials say they hope having a HART station would encourage customers to ride the rail, the report acknowledges the need for the construction of a parking garage or additional off-site parking availability.
Meanwhile, despite 294 documents — and counting — devoted to Aloha Stadium, nobody is prepared to say exactly what the facility’s future holds — or when a determination will be made.