A portion of the planning contract went to paying for air travel that appears to violate state rules.

The state agency overseeing a $26 million contract laying the groundwork for a new Aloha Stadium is now auditing expenses made by consultants for first-class plane tickets.

That announcement came in response to a Civil Beat story Wednesday that detailed nearly $20 million in spending on the stadium contract so far. The story identified travel-related expenses by the consultant team, including those for first- and business-class tickets that appear to violate state spending rules, which only allow reimbursements up to coach-class tickets.

“We’re now going through and auditing all of the invoices,” Chris Kinimaka, public works administrator for the Department of Accounting and General Services, told the Stadium Authority at its meeting Thursday. “We will enforce this. So if there is any overage, we will make that correction through the contract.”

Aloha Stadium.
The state is auditing a stadium consultant contract for first-class travel. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

The audit is targeting about $178,000 worth of airfare expenses, portions of which went to reimburse the consultant team for first-class travel.

Stacey Jones, principal of Crawford Architects, said in a statement Tuesday that traveling in business-class allows the consultant team to work during flights. The team does not bill for those hours spent working while traveling.

The majority of the more than $424,000 in expenses – which included meals, hotel stays, ground transportation, and a Kakaako condo for the first few months of 2022 – were all allowable under the state’s rules.

The amount spent on plane tickets amounts to less than 1% off the nearly $20 million taxpayers have spent so far on the planning contract.

“Does that make it right? No,” Kinimaka told the stadium board.

Waiting For A ‘Path Forward’

The state is still in a holding pattern on what to do with the stadium redevelopment. Gov. Josh Green announced last month that the state would not pursue a procurement method by which a private entity would help to finance construction of a new stadium, due in large part to a recent financial analysis that showed dramatic cost increases.

On Tuesday, a Senate panel endorsed the governor’s plan to find an entity that would design and build a stadium before operating and maintaining it.

Sen. Glenn Wakai, vice chairman of the Senate Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee that voted on that endorsement, urged the board and state agencies to move forward on the project.

“We’re never going to get the perfect RFP,” Wakai said, referring to the request for proposals the state still needs to issue for the stadium’s replacement. “If that’s what we’re waiting for, it’s never going to happen. We need to start pulling the trigger on this thing.”

The nine-member Stadium Authority aimed to have an update on a “clear path forward” at its Thursday meeting, but Vice Chair Brennon Morioka said that stadium officials had yet to meet with lawmakers and the governor’s office to discuss what to do next.

The stadium is deteriorating as the state decides how to build its replacement. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Morioka said the board should have a clearer direction before its next meeting in April.

“That is the hope. For us, as we all know, time is of the essence. And time is becoming money, real money,” Morioka said.

While the state awaits a decision on the future development of a new stadium, the current Aloha Stadium continues to deteroriate. Deputy Manager Russell Uchida underscored that point, ticking off a list of equipment failures including those in the stadium’s backflow preventers, elevators and restrooms.

“The wheels have not fallen off the wagon yet, but it is starting to be quite a wobbly ride over the plains,” Uchida said.

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