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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Let's replace, not fix, creaky Aloha Stadium

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Support is lining up behind the plan to redevelop the Aloha Stadium Halawa site as a means of financing a new facility in 'Ewa.

There seems to be no insurmountable obstacle to making the plan a reality, and no serious cause for opposing it. The 32-year-old stadium has served its purpose through a reasonable lifespan and is in deteriorating condition.

For reasons of public safety as well as simple pride in ownership, a decision must be made, and soon: Should the state embark on repairs, a course likely to run up about $215 million in bills? That seems like money that could be better saved for other projects including the construction of a newer sports facility in 'Ewa, one without weaknesses that plague the aging arena.

A measure now making its way through the Legislature, HB282, identifies a key reason for declaring the stadium near the end of its useful life: concern over its structural stability. The corrosion of the steel frame originally intended to form a protective patina continued through the years. Despite an $80 million repair project, the structural integrity of the stadium under wind conditions is still untested.

The pressing need to remove the liabilities of Aloha Stadium should be incentive enough to overcome a potential legal obstacle to its redevelopment. There is undoubtedly a need to invest at least some of the estimated $99 million needed for short-term repairs, but the state needs to move quickly on the new stadium to keep basic maintenance spending to a minimum. The requested $38 million for the next two years could be spent on the top-priority repairs, but that should be the current site's last allotment.

One problem: A federal provision attached to the stadium land requires that it be used only for public recreation, and prohibits transferring it to a non-government entity.

Staffers for U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie have correctly pledged to seek a modification from the Interior Department.

There's been interest in developing affordable housing on the land, but a better idea would be a mixed-use transit-oriented development at a location sure to be on the route of the future mass-transit line.

That sounds like a far more promising use of state land than allowing it to house a public facility that now accommodates thousands but in uncertain safety.