Aloha Stadium losing baseball configuration
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brandon Masuoka
Aloha Stadium — once hailed as a state-of-the-art multipurpose sports facility — will no longer host baseball under a rule change that will lock the stadium's movable grandstands in a football configuration.
The Aloha Stadium Authority also passed proposals yesterday to allow car racing in its lower Halawa parking lot and to double its swap meet admission fee to $1 for ages 12 and older.
The authority's decision to lock the grandstands came in a unanimous vote to delete a rule requiring the grandstands be moved into baseball configuration once a year.
Stadium officials said the 30-year-old system that controls Aloha Stadium's movable grandstands has become unreliable and costly to maintain.
"Maintenance has become a safety issue at the stadium because it's getting tougher to move it," said Aloha Stadium Authority Chairman Kevin Chong Kee.
Stadium workers need from four days to two weeks to reconfigure the 2,000-ton grandstands, which were designed to glide on a cushion of compressed air.
Each move costs $18,000 to $20,000 because of labor and equipment rentals, according to Aloha Stadium engineer Ken Tong. It would cost more than $11 million to repair the system.
Baseball advocate Al Kam, in a public hearing that drew little testimony at the stadium yesterday, opposed locking the grandstands. He said the change would limit baseball opportunities for the state and would prevent his group, the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League, from using the stadium.
"We are the single largest user of the stadium field for the past two years," Kam said. "We rent the stadium for 42 days every summer — six weeks — and we play baseball games at the stadium every single day."
The stadium could still be reconfigured until the grandstands are locked permanently as early as next year, but any tenant wanting a different configuration would be billed the cost of the move, Chong Kee said.
The stadium is expected to be reconfigured for the football season next week. It can still host concerts in a football configuration, but not professional soccer unless some field seating is removed to accommodate the sport's wider playing field.
"It's disappointing that they're going to remove that option of providing a baseball facility. We don't know where we're going to go," said Kam, who will need to find a replacement field for next summer.
Kam said Ala Wai Field does not have adequate lighting for night games, Central O'ahu Regional Park has problems with harsh sun, Waipahu's Hans L'Orange Park is not centrally located and Les Murakami Stadium at the University of Hawai'i needs to be refurbished.
Given the authority's decision, Kam said, the state would not be able to host Major League Baseball games or World Baseball Classic games, or "anything that requires more than the 4,312 seats at Les Murakami Stadium."
High school baseball teams also will need to find a replacement field, according to Keith Amemiya, Hawai'i High School Athletic Association executive director. Amemiya attended yesterday's public hearing but did not testify.
Amemiya said the HHSAA has been in discussions with UH to use Les Murakami Stadium for the Wally Yonamine Foundation Baseball State Championship in May.
"I'm optimistic we can find a solution," Amemiya said.
Stadium officials also approved a three-month trial period that allows the Sports Car Club of America to use the lower Halawa parking lot for slalom car racing. The sport features cars driving through a traffic-coned obstacle course at average speeds of 30 to 40 mph, according SCCA representative Curtis Lee.
Lee said slalom racing helps kids learn how to drive and maneuver their cars. The SCCA has been trying to find a venue for the sport since Hawai'i Raceway Park closed in April.
Some stadium officials feared racing cars would damage the parking lot surface, but Lee said Grace Pacific Corp., the company that recently repaved the east end parking lot at Aloha Stadium, has given assurances that the pavement can handle the race cars.
The races would not interfere with the popular swap meet, which uses the stadium parking lot that circles the stadium.
Stadium officials said they doubled the swap meet admission fee to $1 for several reasons: Swap meets on the West Coast charge between $3 to $7 per person; the admission fee has not been increased since the mid-1990s even though operating expenses have increased substantially; and the increase will generate additional revenue of more than $650,000 per year.
Before it takes effect, the fee increase will need approval from Gov. Linda Lingle.
The swap meet is held every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and draws 30,000 to 35,000 customers each day, according to interim stadium manager Kenny Lum.
Chong Kee said the stadium plans to use the money generated from the higher admission fee for stadium repair projects.
"The Legislature came to us this past session. They wanted us to foot some of the repair cost to the stadium," Chong Kee said.
Reach Brandon Masuoka at email@example.com.