HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a surprising move Monday, the city announced that it will abandon a long-awaited, $772 million project to renovate Neal Blaisdell Center.
The announcement comes after the city already spent $17 million on project design and planning.
“It’s pretty disappointing. They’ve been talking about renovating this area for a really long time and we were looking forward to it. We come here often and it would be nice to see something done. It’s something that the whole community would be able to enjoy,” said nearby resident Michelle Daggett.
In an emailed statement, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he was pulling the plug on the project because the construction cost for the last four miles of the rail system is not yet known.
Another looming cost: Operations of the rail line when the first phase opens later this year.
Caldwell said it will be up to the next mayor to decide whether to pick up the project.
The city has been championing the renovation of the Blaisdell Center for years, saying it was a long overdue and much-needed project.
In fact, city officials said Monday that they’ve already spent $17 million in taxpayer funds on the effort. The funds covered a feasibility study, master plan, a schematic design and detailed budget.
An environmental assessment released last year said the project would include a renovation of the concert hall and arena, the demolition and new construction of the exhibition hall and other work.
Caldwell said that instead of the renovation, the city will spent money to address backlogged repairs.
“For the short term, we plan to now focus on addressing some much-needed deferred maintenance, and to keep the Blaisdell as fully operational as possible during the maintenance projects,” he said.
“I want to emphasize that the planning and design for a modernized Neal Blaisdell Center resulted in an excellent and exciting vision for this facility, and I hope that the future administration will take advantage of it, in whole or in part.”
City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi has opposed the renovation and said she’s happy the city abandoned the plans.
“When I asked about this project a while ago, the contracts for it wouldn’t be ready until December of this year. Now why would a mayor or any leader commit that big a project and then be leaving office and then leave it for the next person? That really is unfair,” Kobayashi said.
"Legacy or not, I wouldn’t want a legacy where all the taxpayers are stuck holding the bag. "
The Blaisdell Center opened in 1964, and at the time was considered a state-of-the-art facility.