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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Police, parents say no to booze in parks

By Mike Leidemann and Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writers

Honolulu could not only save money but also reduce alcohol-related problems at public parks by allowing private companies to take over maintenance and security, say municipal officials in California who have pioneered the concept.

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Mayor Mufi Hannemann
Phone: 523-4141
Fax: 527-5552
Email: mayor@honolulu.gov

City Council
Phone: 547-7000
Fax: 523-4220


Todd Apo: tapo@honolulu.gov

Romy Cachola: rcachola@honolulu.gov

Donovan Dela Cruz: dmdelacruz@honolulu.gov

Charles Djou: cdjou@honolulu.gov

Nestor Garcia: ngarcia@honolulu.gov

Ann Kobayashi: akobayashi@honolulu.gov

Barbara Marshall: bmarshall@honolulu.gov

Gary Okino: gokino@honolulu.gov

Rod Tam: rtam@honolulu.gov

Mailing address for all:

Honolulu Hale
530 S. King St.
Honolulu, HI 96813

"It's the way of the future. It really is a win-win concept," said Phil Perry, assistant city manager in Redding, Calif., where a private company runs the city's new $13 million sports complex.

The City Council is considering just such a move, which would allow firms to sell liquor at three large parks while, in exchange, the firms take over some of the park operations.

However, parents, police and residents criticized the proposal at a City Council hearing yesterday.

"It is a ridiculous notion to sell alcohol at a public park," said Barbara Wood, who lives in Pukalani, Maui, and works in Honolulu.

"For cryin' out loud! We have enough DUIs, alcohol-related accidents, theft, brawls and basic meanness as a result of alcohol abuse in Hawai'i."

Two California municipal officials, however, said their experience with the system has been positive: Alcohol problems declined when the private company Big League Dreams began running their parks.

"Alcohol is a big issue that comes up in every city, but the truth is this is a business that has a vested interest in running a clean operation. Their security is 10 times better than what we used to provide in our parks," said Tony Barton, a retired parks and recreation manager for Cathedral City, Calif., where Big League Dreams began as a mom-and-pop operation.

Big League Dreams has since grown into a multimillion-dollar company, building and operating more than a dozen baseball and sports complexes that often include replicas of major league baseball stadiums, such as Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

The company has thrived by offering to take over park maintenance expenses from cash-strapped city governments across the country in return for the opportunity to have concession revenue, Barton said.

"Cities love it. A lot of times you can afford to build a facility, but the maintenance costs are what kill you," Barton said. "With this deal, they take care of all the maintenance and save us from hiring more people and paying their benefits."

City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi has proposed a bill that would allow liquor sales at three O'ahu parks: Central O'ahu Regional Park, Waipi'o Soccer Complex and Hans L'Orange Park.

Allowing private companies to earn money through concession sales, including alcohol, would be an important factor in getting a firm to provide security and maintenance at the parks, she said. At Central O'ahu Regional Park alone, maintenance costs are nearly $1 million a year, she said.

The City Council yesterday referred the bill to committee for further discussion.

Police and others questioned Kobayashi's proposal at the council meeting.

Honolulu Police Maj. Randy Macadangdang, who is assigned to the Pearl City police station, testified against the proposal. He said that "the sale of intoxicating liquor enhances the potential for problems associated with drinking."

State drug control liaison Tamah-Lani Noh slammed the bill as bad policy that sets a bad example for young people who are playing and competing in the parks.

"This bill will allow people to say it's OK to drink beer in the parks, it's OK to do something against your ethics" because it offers a financial advantage in helping pay for something good, Noh said.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he appreciates that the council is looking for new ways to forge public-private partnerships, but "I obviously have some concerns." He added, "I don't want to encourage underage drinking."

Hannemann said he would consider the idea as well as possibly restricting alcohol sales for youth-oriented events such as Little League or soccer. "I'm not saying no. I'm not saying yes," he said.

He said he is looking at other ways to raise money, including possibly charging more to nonprofit groups to rent other city facilities. That could include charging more to schools that hold graduation ceremonies at Neal Blaisdell Center, he said.

Kaimuki resident Helen Eschenbacher said there already are problems with people picking fights with each other and game officials because of alcohol served at indoor arenas.

"Why would you want to encourage that?" she asked. "It's just going to be horrible. They can sell mixed plates and sodas and whatever they want, but not alcohol."

Perry, the Redding city official, said such problems have not developed at the privately maintained parks there.

"Most of the alcohol has to stay in the restaurant itself and violations are quickly dealt with," he said.

"They're very strict," Barton added. "In nine years, I think they've had only two problems with all the thousands of people using the fields. And in those cases, they banned the teams involved from the park for life."

Kobayashi said the restaurants could provide a controlled setting for drinking, similar to what already occurs at city golf courses, Blaisdell Center and the Waikiki Shell.

Kobayashi said she wants to hear more from the public about the idea.

"The idea was floated mainly to see if we can save on the maintenance costs," she said.

Reach Mike Leidemann at mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5460. Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.