Catherine Toth Fox: Hawaii Doesn't Need A New Stadium. It Needs A Better Plan - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

I have fond memories of Aloha Stadium, but a multipurpose concert venue may be a better use of space.

A lot of money — taxpayer money — will go toward the building of a new entertainment megaplex to replace Aloha Stadium.

Already, $350 million — more money than the gross national product of some small nations — has been appropriated by the Legislature to construct a new stadium, one that likely won’t be as big as the 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium.

We haven’t been able to fill the stadium for University of Hawaii football games for years. The last time it was nearly filled to capacity was on Dec. 1, 2007, when 49,566 fans witnessed UH complete a 12-0 season and clinch the Sugar Bowl berth with a comeback victory over Washington. That was 16 years ago.

But what about all the other seasons?

Where were all the Hawaii fans from 1996 to 1998, when Fred von Appen was head coach and UH won just five out of 31 games during those years? I was there, then a season ticket holder and sitting in seats that weren’t ours on the 50-yard line because no one showed up. I stopped going, too, eventually.

And if the state builds a new stadium, glossy and exciting, will I start attending UH games again? Will anyone?

As it is now, fans are filling the stands at the university’s Clarence T.C. Ching Field in Manoa. The UH board of regents recently approved a $30 million capital improvement project to expand the seating capacity from 9,300 to 17,000 seats by May 2024.

The NCCA’s minimum attendance requirements for Division I teams is 15,000—and in 2019, before the pandemic, only about 12,000 to 13,000 season tickets were sold. You can’t blame Covid-19.

UH Manoa Football field.
Fans are filling the stands at the University of Hawaii’s football field amid debate over Aloha Stadium. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

While I’m a fan of the concept of a stadium on campus, I understand the challenges of this plan.

For one, UH has long been a commuter school; it never has had the same vibrant campus life as many mainland colleges and the stands likely won’t be filled with students walking over from the dorms.

And two, the area just isn’t set up for a huge venue that draws tens of thousands of people. Neighborhood streets are narrow, there’s not enough parking, it’s not easy to get into and out of the area.

Continued worries over Covid and the ease of streaming games live at home may also be contributing to poor attendance, not just at football games but for other sports as well. The men’s basketball team’s recent home game against Cal State Bakersfield at the SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center on Jan. 28 only brought in 4,417 spectators. I was one of them. And the Warriors are doing well this season.

This all puts the state in a quandary.

I don’t disagree that Aloha Stadium should be demolished. Though it’s only 45 years old — other stadiums, including the Texas A&M’s Kyle Field (1904) and Harvard Stadium (1903) are far older and still in use — the venue is outdated and in need of a major overhaul.

Aloha Stadium is only 45 years old, but the venue is outdated and in need of an overhaul. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

When it opened in 1975, it was the largest stadium in the state and has hosted 35 Pro Bowls, countless high school graduations, monster truck jams, the annual Great Aloha Run and some of the most memorable concerts in the state’s history, including Janet Jackson, The Rolling Stones, U2, Whitney Houston and Bruno Mars.

I saw Michael Jackson in concert. I went to Hawaii Tsunami soccer games. I covered UH football games from the press box for the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser. I interviewed Tom Brady after his first NFL Pro Bowl in the locker room (and helped him fix his collar before a TV interview). And I watched N*SYNC sing the national anthem at the OIA state football championship game sometime in the ‘90s.

I have fond memories of Aloha Stadium, but a huge stadium for college football games may not be what Hawaii needs anymore.

I would argue for a multipurpose concert venue, one with better acoustics than the Blaisdell Arena. But there have been maybe a dozen concerts at Aloha Stadium that hit capacity.

Even Frank Sinatra, who performed in Halawa in 1986, only lured more than 25,000 fans.
We don’t need a stadium to host the Great Aloha Run or high school graduations. We don’t need a stadium for the Swap Meet. We don’t need a stadium for Show Aloha Land events.

So what does Hawaii need? It needs a better plan.

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

I concur. We have no home-grown capability to support professional sports outside of surfing and beach volleyball. Football is served for the UH program now, especially with the recently upgraded facilities in Manoa and the travel costs associated with NCAA D1 conferences. Given the proximity to rail, it may be better used as an Asian style station development integrating shopping (like with groceries as well as consumer goods), living, hotel, dining, UH teaching hospital/medical, police, fire, ambulance, city hall, education, etc., facilities. However, this is after the fact build, so it may not be as integrated as it should be, but the point remains: if the rail is left to be a commuter only type, it has very few attractions for daily life along its lines until you get to Ala Moana Center which has ridership implications. There could be another "Ala Moana Center++" build in that area, if done even remotely correctly. Maybe it's time we look at the aging Pearlridge facilities with newer eyes after that. Anyhow, just thinking about the more successful rails which service round the clock daily life needs as opposed to rail designed to meet commuter demand peaks.

CKMsurf · 7 months ago

Is the plan to build a $350 million stadium for 7 UH games a year? Please expose the total cost of UH athletics. Get past the spin that UH football all other sports and compile the cost of construction and maintenance of the stadiums for football baseball basketball and softball. Include all other costs that are now hidden from public view. UH athletics looks good if they have a free stadiums and no overhead costs. Is goal to have collegiate athletic teams, to satisfy fans who would otherwise have no sports teams, to give scholarships ? then we need to know the true and total costs of this endeavor.

Mayah · 7 months ago

Get some termite and remove yellow section of stadium, which would leave enough remaining seats. Then sure up the remaining structure an renovate wha Y s left.

Paiaboy · 7 months ago

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