Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration announced Monday that it is suspending the planned renovations of the Neil S. Blaisdell Center — an effort that had been estimated to cost nearly $700 million — in order to focus on getting rail done instead.

“Given that the final construction cost is yet unknown for the last 4.16 miles of our rail system and the City’s financial responsibilities for the operations of the upcoming rail service … we decided that it is a logical time to pause the (Blaisdell) project,” Caldwell said in a statement.

“This is disappointing as we fully believe that major renovations are needed in order for the Blaisdell to best serve the community and to attract world class events and attractions to Honolulu for our local residents,” he added.

Neal Blaisdell Arena outside. 27 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Plans to renovate the more than 55-year-old Neil S. Blaisdell Center are on hold so that the city can focus its efforts on getting rail done instead. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The 20-mile, 21-station rail line is currently estimated to cost just over $9 billion. However, the contract to build the last, most challenging stretch into town hasn’t been signed yet, and the project’s federal partners are expressing anxiety at the delay to get that deal completed.

Two years ago, state leaders formally pressed for Caldwell’s administration to stop plans to renovate the 22.4 acre Blaisdell complex, arguing that taxpayers shouldn’t take the brunt of that work and rail simultaneously. They argued the city would be taking on too much at once.

At the time, Caldwell argued that the city could afford both projects because their funding came from two different sources. Now, the city will focus on the Blaisdell’s deferred maintenance needs instead, according to Monday’s statement.

The building is more than 55 years old. Efforts to bring the Miss Universe pageant there in 2017 failed after pageant officials determined the Blaisdell would not meet their requirements.

Caldwell further cited Honolulu’s change in mayoral and City Council leadership next year as a reason to pause the project.

He urged future city leaders to pursue a public-private partnership to share the renovation’s financial risks, whenever it might get done.

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