Reject The Aloha Stadium Plan In Favor Of UH Manoa - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


To play on a famous line from a popular Hollywood film from 1989, if they build it, will they come?

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More specifically, if the state of Hawaii rebuilds Aloha Stadium, will tens of thousands of football fans fill the seats to cheer on the Rainbow Warriors as in days of old?

That’s the fundamental question government officials should be asking themselves if the plan for a new, $350 million stadium in Halawa is to go through.

Gov. David Ige made the right call in junking — for now — the proposal for a housing-and-entertainment mega-complex to be built through a public-private partnership as part of the work at Halawa, where Aloha Stadium has stood since 1975.

His administration, which has less than two months remaining, is expected to unveil plans for a developer any day now for building just a 35,000-seat stadium.

Perhaps a resolution is in sight, but it all feels a little rushed, a little desperate, as if Ige and DBEDT Director Mike McCartney are trying to go out with a win before the clock runs out.

Based on what has transpired so far, however — e.g., decades of neglect for the now-shuttered 50,000-seat facility, steadily declining ticket sales, turf battles between agencies and a University of Hawaii football team with five different coaches and just a few winning seasons in the past 15 years — the likelihood that a new stadium as currently proposed will deliver dividends for both fans and finances is doubtful.

Civil Beat reported in April 2021 that some publicly financed mainland sporting venues “have fallen short of their initial revenue and development goals and left taxpayers on the hook to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades.”

The odds of Hawaii abandoning a football stadium are less than zero, of course. Football is the most popular sport by far nationally, both at the collegiate and professional level. High school football is very competitive, too, and many local players go on to outstanding gridiron careers.

But it’s really a matter of common sense and fiscal responsibility for Hawaii — which does not have a professional sports team, even though that was part of the rationale to build Aloha Stadium in the first place — to have a stadium of a more suitable size. That $350 million would be far better spent on affordable housing at the Halawa site, which is next to a rail station.

A rendering of the Ching Athletics Field.
A rendering of the Clarence T.C. Ching Field. UH is holding its home games in Manoa as the state struggles to decide what to do about Aloha Stadium. University of Hawaii News

While the state has struggled to find a solution, UH has moved admirably and expeditiously to continue holding home games at the Manoa campus.

With Aloha Stadium closed since December 2020, the Warriors have been making good use of the Clarence T.C. Ching Field in Manoa. Just two months ago the UH Board of Regents approved a $30 million capital improvement project to expand the seating capacity from 9,300 to 17,000 seats a year from now.

The work includes replacing the grandstands in the Ewa end zone, expanding the existing seating in the Diamond Head end zone and adding seating that will wrap around the corners of the field where the current track is located. It also involves installing a 75-foot wide video scoreboard currently located at Aloha Stadium.

“The new seating will not exceed the existing height of the complex,” according to a UH press release.

The funding announcement followed an $8.1 million project in 2021 that expanded seating from 2,500, completed in time for the 2021 season. The NCAA’s minimum attendance requirements for Division-I teams is 15,000.

Could UH Manoa be the right place for a new stadium? That’s what three former governors argued a year ago.

Aloha Stadium has been closed since December 2020. What’s the best plan to replace it? David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Neil Abercrombie, Ben Cayetano and John Waihee told state leaders that the state should instead build a 22,000- to 27,000-seat stadium on the campus. That, they said, would free up the Hala­­wa site for residential development focused on workforce housing.

“We believe developer dollars at Halawa should go where they are desperately needed — housing,” the letter states.

Asked about the proposal a year later, Abercrombie said circumstances had changed.

The Hawaii Legislature this past session transferred control of the stadium from the Department of Accounting and General Services to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. General obligation bonds would also be used to fund the new stadium, on the condition that it be in Halawa.

“I am afraid that it was a good idea at the time, but that its time has passed,” Abercrombie said Friday. “If the state had done what we suggested at the time it all could have been done. Halawa could have been secured for housing and commercial activity associated with that.”

But is it really too late? There will be a new governor and administration come early December, as well as lots of new faces in the Legislature. Bold, creative thinking is needed from our leaders.

The university could also be involved directly in discussions and decisions about what is best for the state in terms of a stadium. Hawaii will never have a football team to rival the University of Michigan, UCLA or the University of Alabama, nor the resources to match their top-notch sports facilities.

But the work on the Ching complex illustrates how important it is that the roles of quality education and collegiate athleticism not be sidelined in pursuit of gridiron glory. UH has other Division I sports teams that require facilities and financial support, too, and Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs receiving federal assistance. Football, even with dwindling attendance, is still an economic engine that helps subsidize other programs.

New Aloha Stadium rendering, NASED, Entertainment District, Halawa
A planned real estate development surrounding Aloha Stadium was expected to help alleviate the burden on taxpayers. But Gov. Ige canceled the plan and says he will find a way to develop just the stadium. Courtesy: Crawford Architects

Maybe, like in the Kevin Costner film “Field of Dreams” — where Shoeless Joe Jackson magically emerges from the corn fields to once again play baseball — there will be a new Aloha Stadium. But that’s just a movie. In reality, costly things can happen when promises are made and government gets involved in development (see: rail).

Remember how the stadium was supposed to be resistant to corrosion thanks to a “protective patina”? As the Star-Advertiser recently reminded us, DAGS would later report that — what a shock! —  salty air caused it to corrode.

Finally, it is instructive to note that the building of Aloha Stadium actually displaced existing affordable housing.

Halawa Housing, as it was called, was a collection of former World War II Navy barracks that were converted into units for about 1,000 families. It was all demolished to make way for the stadium as well as the interchange connecting the H-1, H-3 and Moanalua freeways.

Everything old is new again. Here’s hoping we get it right this time.


Read this next:

John Pritchett: Party Pooper


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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Build housing out in Halawa? Why? So traffic can get even worse? Anyone who suggests we build more "affordable housing" hasn't thought very hard on the issue. If you build houses and sell them at reasonably affordable prices, everyone is going to bid on them because demand is so high. This will drive the price up until only the rich can afford them. Please, think first before talking about "affordable housing."

Kakaako96814 · 1 month ago

The stadium belongs on the UH campus and they should continue their plan to expand it. The state would have no reason to build a stadium in Halawa as there would be no headline program to play there, if you even consider UH to be a headline football program. Then use 10% of money saved in Halawa to build a real off ramp to UH from the H-1, widen it by 2 lanes in each direction and increase the parking structure on campus. A win-win-win situation.

wailani1961 · 1 month ago

Traffic and noise are the unbearable problems in the Manoa area for a stadium. Going to UH is a traffic nightmare already. Glad I don't live any where in the Manoa district.

kealoha1938 · 1 month ago

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