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Aloha Stadium project gets OK to go with single developer

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                                A rendering shows what the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District could look like.


    A rendering shows what the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District could look like.

There was an air of celebration at Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Stadium Authority. It was announced that Gov. Josh Green and the state are moving forward with a modified version of the public-private partnership plan that has been in the works since 2018.

“I am optimistic. We have the green light and a clear direction,” Stadium Authority Chair Brennon Morioka said.

Later, the state public works administrator in charge of the project voiced relief.

“Today we got a lot lifted off of our shoulders. We’ve got an administration that is 100% behind us,” said Chris Kinimaka from the Department of Accounting and General Services. “We’ve got a team going forward.”

But that team still needs to sign up a key player.

The state government forces are now officially all aligned, but the private-sector partner, which will now be responsible for both the stadium and the development around it, must be enlisted.

“After careful consideration and months of analysis, we have decided to pursue an integrated public- private-partnership approach for the project,” Green said Thursday. “This approach will not only provide us with a much-needed new stadium, but also ensure long-term funding and cost overruns are managed by the private sector, reducing the burden on our local taxpayers.”

The adjusted New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District plan has one entity charged with developing, building, operating and maintaining the stadium while receiving rights to mixed-use development in the surrounding area.

The previous plan called for separate private-sector teams — one for the stadium itself and another for the district.

“Having one master developer do both the stadium and the mixed-use development sets us on a cleaner financing path,” said state Sen. Glenn Wakai, who represents areas surrounding the stadium. “The stadium will be the crown jewel of the district, but it’s not the moneymaker. Now one developer can work the numbers to have the commercial activity subsidize the cost of a new stadium.”

This may be more efficient while requiring less state funding in the long run, while giving the one private partner more responsibility but also more opportunity for reward.

It also means the requests for proposals intended for five preferred finalists for the previous plan (three for the stadium and two for the district) are no longer in play. But “much of the previous work to date can be repurposed in the new approach,” according to a news release Thursday from NASED.

Priorities in the new design, build, operate, maintain (DBOM) model differ from the previous plan where the private partner is responsible for designing, building, financing and maintaining the stadium (DBFM), Morioka said.

In a DBFM model, “the financing would generally be the lead,” the stadium board chair said. “With the one contract, the developer is more important (in the new DBOM plan).

“Now there might be new partnerships,” he added. “They may need to form new teams.”

Potential bidders and other stakeholders will be invited to a market- sounding meeting June 14, and the new timeline calls for requests for qualifications by the end of this year — a process potential private-sector partners went through years ago for the previous plan.

“Anytime you have delays like this, there’s frustration on all levels. We’re all fans,” Morioka said. “We’ve already started it, part of the procurement development. If we maintain this schedule, we’re confident about early 2028. I think we have a cushion, and reason to be positive.”

Around $25 million in state funds have gone toward five years of planning for NASED.

In late 2022 former Gov. David Ige tried to change course to a traditional design-and-build model that did not include other development. As a candidate for governor, Green voiced support for NASED as long as affordable housing was included.

After he took office in December, Green’s administration determined the split-project approach would put too much risk of future funding on the state.

The state Legislature allocated $400 million during the 2022 session to build the new facility, which would host University of Hawaii football games — among many other events — as did the original 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium.

Since 2021, UH has played its home games at the on-campus Ching Complex, which has 9,000 seats but is being expanded to 15,000 for the upcoming season.

The most recent renderings of the new Aloha Stadium call for at least 25,000 seats, with possible expansion. Planners continue to hope for a mixed-use venue that can host football, soccer, rugby, major concerts and other events.

The nonstadium part of the Halawa project will be built over the next 20 years, according to planners, and the state would end up owning the stadium in 20 or 30 years.

“The Stadium Authority fully supports Gov. Green in his new direction for NASED,” Morioka said.“We look forward to issuing the new procurement and being able to provide our community with a much-needed new stadium and a vibrant community district.”

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