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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Stadium may lock movable grandstands

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

The system that controls Aloha Stadium's movable grandstands has become unreliable and costly to maintain, and the Aloha Stadium Authority is considering locking the grandstands permanently in a football or baseball configuration.

"The equipment is 31 years old," Aloha Stadium engineer Kenneth Tong said yesterday. "Over the course of time, it starts to wear down."

Stadium workers need anywhere from four days to two weeks to reconfigure the 2,000-ton grandstands, which were designed to glide on a cushion of compressed air, Tong said. Each move costs $18,000 to $20,000 because of labor and equipment rentals, he added.

Once hailed as a state-of-the-art facility, the 50,000-seat stadium requires costly repairs to withstand another 20 to 30 years of use, stadium officials said. A recent consultant's report recommended the stadium lock the grandstands in a football configuration, and not refurbish the grandstand system, saving an estimated $11 million.

The authority plans to discuss the issue at its Feb. 23 meeting.

Another option would be to lock the grandstands in a baseball configuration, which would allow the stadium to host baseball and professional soccer events, in addition to football games.

However, that setup requires realignment of the football field and press boxes, and the re-crowning of the football field, stadium officials said. It would also disrupt current seating for football games, because prime seats such as the 50-yard line would be located elsewhere and be fewer in the baseball configuration.

"The biggest problem is going to be (University of Hawai'i football) season ticket sales," because UH officials would need to reassign many seats in the baseball configuration, said State Comptroller Russ Saito, who oversees Aloha Stadium issues.

Authority members yesterday had different opinions on what to do with the stadium.

Alvin Narimatsu said he wanted to keep Aloha Stadium open to hosting a variety of events, and supported locking it in a baseball configuration.

"For me, I think we have to remember this is a multi-purpose stadium," Narimatsu said. "We use it for a lot of other events, other than football or baseball. There's soccer, youth tournaments. I would like to see how we can retain, and be available for those activities."

Authority chairman Kevin Chong Kee said he favored a football configuration because that would not require costly upgrades to the facility or playing field.

"There's a lot of added money needed to lock the stadium in baseball configuration," Chong Kee said. "Money is an issue."

The additional costs associated with locking the grandstands in baseball configuration will be covered in a future study, Saito said.

The Hawai'i Collegiate Baseball League and the Interscholastic League of Honolulu play baseball at Aloha Stadium. Hawai'i Pacific University and Korean professional baseball teams have also used it in the past, said assistant events manager Scott Chan.

"Right now attendance at baseball games is in the hundreds, maybe a thousand, if you have a playoff game," Saito said. "This is a 50,000-seat stadium. It's not economical to operate the stadium for baseball unless the attendance goes way up."

Fewer than 10,000 fans attended high school and college baseball events this past season at the stadium, Chong Kee said. The stadium does not charge rent for high school baseball teams, but does charge for operating costs.

For comparison, a total of 196,995 fans attended seven UH home football games in the 2005 season, and a combined 73,389 attended the 2005 Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl (16,134), this year's Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl (7,065) and NFL Pro Bowl (50,190).

The stadium's last professional soccer event in February 2005 with D.C. United and Los Angeles Galaxy drew approximately 15,000 fans. The last major league baseball doubleheader in 1997 with the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals attracted 37,382.

Aloha Stadium could host concerts in either configuration.

SUPER BOWL BID?

If $130 million in renovations at Aloha Stadium are completed in several years, stadium authority chairman Kevin Chong Kee said the state should consider putting a bid to host a Super Bowl at the stadium.

"I think it would be a good opportunity for the state to start thinking about. If we do go along with the stadium renovation, and add 10,000 to 15,000 seats with box seats, that's the selling point that the NFL is looking at. Right now, it's wishful thinking. But that's something the state can think of because this is an ideal place to have a Super Bowl."

Reach Brandon Masuoka at bmasuoka@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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