Stadium authority says they can pull off redevelopment plan. Not everyone agrees

Now that Gov. Josh Green has approved the redevelopment of Aloha stadium and the Halawa property...
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 4:32 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2022 at 5:01 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Now that Gov. Josh Green has OK’d the redevelopment of Aloha Stadium and the 70 acres around it, Stadium Authority leaders are defending the project and their ability to control costs.

Doubts about whether the project might spiral out of control or lead to hidden costs to taxpayers are what led former Gov. David Ige to try and ditch the developer partnership before leaving office.

Key takeaways:

  • The plan to redevelop Aloha Stadium and surrounding acreage with a public-private partnership is getting pushback ― including from Hawaii’s House Speaker.
  • The Stadium Authority recognizes navigating the project will be complicated, but say they’ve got community backing ― and a road forward.
  • And how long will the existing stadium remain standing? It will be torn down with the first construction contracts. That means the landmark will be around for at least a few more years.

Aloha Stadium Authority Vice Chair Brennon Morioka says the unusual and complex project is part of why the public and even government leaders have so many questions and misconceptions.

“It is a very complicated project,” he told Hawaii News Now. “There are a lot of moving pieces and the fact that it is two different procurements.”

Morioka said many do not understand that there will be separate developers: One to design, build and maintain the stadium and another to develop commercial and retail, residential and recreational facilities in line with the authority’s master plan.

Morioka said the real estate development, which will collect lease rents from the developers, will generate revenue for the stadium special fund.

That provides a buffer against cost overruns on the stadium and eventually finance expansion or improvements to the state facility.

The unusual thing about the stadium contract is that it will provide fixes “availability payments” to the stadium contractor. Those payments, to cover maintenance and repay financing obtained by the builder, will be set in the contract which means the developer carries the risk if the stadium costs more to maintain than expected.

“If the contractor who is building the stadium is going to be maintaining the stadium, they will tend to build it a little bit better,” Morioka said. “Because they know if they put in more quality material, they build it right they are going to have less issues come time to maintain it.”

Infrastructure a key concern

Chris Kinimaka, the state Public Works director, also responded to questions about how development can take place when there is no additional water or sewer infrastructure available. She told the authority that reducing the stadium from 50,000 seats down to 25 or 30,000 will leave the site with a surplus of available water.

She also said a city and county sewer connection is 12 years away so developers will need to fold the cost of on-site wastewater treatment into their projects. She predicted the site will eventually need to process about a million gallons a day of wastewater, which will generate treated water for reuse in irrigation.

At their first meeting since learning that Green wanted the partnership plan to move forward, authority members discussed how to explain the project to win more public and pollical support.

Authority member John Fink, CEO of Aloha United Way, pointed out that what was happening was development of much more than just a stadium.

“This is going to be something that 5, 10 or 15 years from now we can all look back and hold our heads high because we created a whole new district not just a stadium,” Fink said.

Michael Yadao, a construction union executive, added the project is also about opportunity.

“I think talking more about the kind of jobs that are potentially created the kind of local construction jobs in particular that will be a boon to our economy the second you start building and into the next 15-20 years,” he said.

Authority member Claire Tamamoto, with the Aiea Community Association, said her neighbors were supportive of the redevelopment plan after being heard in multiple opportunities for public input.

“I think the biggest concern the community had was that it was just going to be a stadium alone, just to get it done. We want them to come into our community to generate money into our community,” she said.

Doubts about hidden costs linger

But doubts about hidden costs remain at the Legislature, especially in the state House.

House Speaker Scott Saiki told Hawaii News Now that he fears infrastructure costs may be shifted to the state and that many serious questions remain unanswered about what developers are actually going to pay for.

Saiki and then-Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, now Lt. Gov. Luke, pushed budget legislation that provided $350 million for stadium construction, which they believed would end the need for the development partnerships.

Luke has said she is uncomfortable handing so much state property to private entities.

Given the concerns among some lawmakers, state Sen. Glenn Wakai, an advocate for the developer partnerships, said the authority should proceed quickly and not seek clarification on the law from legislators.

“Any kind of tinkering with that only provides an opportunity for the obstructionists to get in there and try and derail this entire project,” Wakai said.

Despite that warning, the authority will likely need to come in for some appropriations, which could lead to an airing of the issues ― at the very least.

‘Where the rubber meets the road’

One challenge in selling the project politically is that no one knows for sure what the competing development teams will come up with once the request for proposals is released in January.

Kinimaka said the discussions so far have not included specifics from developers.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Kinimaka said.

“That’s where we find out what their capability is, because clearly the real estate development has to make a profit. They have to generate revenue and that’s where balance of affordable housing or housing at all gets developed.”

Kinimaka and Morioka said the rush is on to incorporate the new governor’s priorities into the formal RFP, with about a seven-month deadline for response and a selection by the authority in January 2024.

Kinimaka said they have received a lot of questions about when the 47-year-old stadium will be demolished.

She said demolition would be part of the first construction contracts and would involve extensive study of what can be salvaged for reuse and then disassembled piece by piece.