The Hawaii governor says the estimated $400 million cost of a public-private partnership is too high.

Gov. Josh Green said his administration will not move forward with plans to develop a new Aloha Stadium and surrounding district via a public-private partnership because a cost-analysis indicated that such a model would put a heavy financial burden on the state.

The result could be a smaller stadium than the one with 35,000 seats that’s currently projected. Development of the parking lot surrounding the stadium site also would be pushed out to a much later date.

An analysis by Goldman Sachs, the state’s financial consultant on the stadium, indicated that taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $400 million if the state pursues the so-called “P3” model. Lawmakers already have set aside $350 million for the stadium project and are reluctant to spend much more than that anytime soon.

“The cost of our money as we contributed to private developers would be too high,” Green said Thursday in an interview with the Civil Beat Editorial Board. “It’s just too large.”

Gov. Josh Green is ending the pursuit of a public-private partnership to redevelop Aloha Stadium. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The original 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium, which was built in 1975, hosted University of Hawaii football games as well as concerts by artists including Janet Jackson, The Rolling Stones, U2 and Whitney Houston. However, the facility was deemed unsafe for spectator events in 2020 and has sat mostly vacant since then.

Efforts to build a new stadium in Halawa have led to disputes over funding as well as a tug of war over the need for affordable housing in the area.

Under the P3 model, the state would contract with entities to build a new stadium and operate it long into the future. The private entities would put up some money of their own in addition to state funds to construct the stadium and in return receive a share of profits from the stadium’s future revenues, availability payments from the state, or some other forms of compensation.

The most infamous example of a public-private partnership in Hawaii is the Honolulu rail project, which has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. House Speaker Scott Saiki said he wanted to avoid a similar situation happening with the stadium redevelopment.

“I don’t want the stadium to be another rail project where costs spiral out of control and taxpayers are on the hook,” Saiki said Thursday.

Instead, Green proposed a construction method by which the state hires a project team to design and build the stadium before operating and managing it. He said he’s cutting out the arrangements to share costs of developing the stadium with a private entity. But the management entity would still keep much of the revenue from the new stadium, Green said.

Former Gov. David Ige first put a halt to the state’s public-private partnership plans shortly before leaving office last year. He also wanted to pursue a design-build model.

Green said he and Finance Director Luis Salaveria couldn’t accept the potential for cost overruns.

Sen. Glenn Wakai, who has been a proponent of redeveloping the stadium under a P3 model, said he was disappointed by Green’s decision. He believes the $350 million the state set aside could only buy a stadium with about 20,000 seats. He’s worried that without the private investment, the state would need to appropriate more funds for a bigger stadium.

“I’m not going to go back on my word to my colleagues here to say ‘Oh, I need x-million of dollars more.’ I’m not going to do that,” Wakai said.

Planning for the stadium already has cost taxpayers about $25 million and years of work on project documents. Wakai said adopting a new construction model could cost the state an extra six months.

“There’s absolutely nothing advantageous for us to delay, we’ve got to get moving,” Wakai said.

The current plan, which Green is mostly ditching, was for development of the site on two simultaneous tracks — construction of the stadium and development of the surrounding entertainment district, which is now the empty stadium parking lot.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green speaks to the Civil Beat Editorial Board, March 2, 2023, at the governor's office. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)
Gov. Josh Green is taking the stadium development in a new direction. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

Green wants to conduct development in two phases. In the first phase, the state will spend the $350 million already appropriated to construct the stadium, then pursue development of the entertainment district.

Green said he still wants to see the area used for housing units.

Another request for proposals will go out “in the near future” under the new direction for constructing the stadium, Green said. That will include demolition of the old Aloha Stadium and construction of a new stadium, which Green described as “modest.”

“It will be smaller than some people want but at least it will get built,” he said, adding that the state could add more seats at a later date if it chooses to.

The state was considering a shortlist of three development teams to demolish the current stadium and build a new one. Whether those teams would still be able to compete to build the stadium under new parameters is an open question.

Stadium officials couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

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