By Keli‘i Akina
It’s not easy being a governor when criticism can come from every quarter, no matter what you propose.
That’s why I want to commend Gov. Josh Green for attempting to cut in half the cost of redeveloping the old Aloha Stadium on 25 acres of land in Halawa.
Under the old plan, the state would have contributed $400 million toward construction of a 35,000-seat stadium that would have been designed, built and maintained for 30 years by a private partner, but the state would have been the operator.
Over the duration of the contract, the state then would have repaid the private company for its share of the construction and maintenance costs for a total taxpayer tab of about $800 million.
The governor’s new plan attempts to cut that cost in half by reducing the size of the stadium to 20,000 seats and having the private partner operate the stadium instead of the state.
We look forward to hearing more concrete details to many lingering questions, such as what happens after 30 years, and whether the private partner will be tasked with any additional responsibilities.
As the governor continues to sketch out his plan, I would suggest he consider the following five ideas to ensure the project’s long-term success.
>> Let the private partner keep the ticket sales. It’s not the role of the government to woo musical acts and sporting events to come to Hawaii. The private sector is better at doing that, especially if they are incentivized by the ticket revenues.
>> Let the private partner bear the risk of failure. If ticket sales slump, the private partner should still be required to operate and maintain the stadium without expecting a bailout from taxpayers.
>> Extend the contract indefinitely, beyond 30 years. Require the private partner to pay for any maintenance or rebuilding now and into the future, indefinitely. This would incentivize proper maintenance of the facility by the private partner.
>> Sell the stadium and naming rights to the private partner. There’s no obvious reason that the government should own it at all, especially if the private partner is running it. Let’s ensure that the government doesn’t get in the way of its success.
>> Sell the land surrounding the stadium. The state does not have a good track record for building entertainment districts on government leasehold land. Allowing a private partner to own and manage the 73 acres of lands surrounding the stadium would ensure that it was used productively for entertainment, business or housing, and keep taxpayers off the hook.
While not all agree that a new Aloha Stadium is the best use of taxpayer money at this time, it is clear at least that Gov. Green’s proposal to cut costs is on the right track.
Let’s follow through with a strategy that will give the stadium the best chance to succeed and avoid becoming another boondoggle.
Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.