Let's not fall for all the Aloha Stadium hype
by Keli'i Akina, Ph.D., President / CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Let me just cut to the chase: In the spirit of wise spending, it's time that our lawmakers take a closer look at the proposed New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District and really ask themselves if it is an appropriate use of our ever-dwindling state funds.
See, being a steward of taxpayer money carries with it a certain responsibility to avoid wasteful spending, excessive debt and other policies that can become a burden on taxpayers, as well as questioning the so-called sunk-cost fallacy that leads to spending more money on questionable projects simply because so much money has already been spent on them.
Earlier this year, Gov. Josh Green wisely decided to abandon the idea of putting the full cost of a new stadium on the state — opting instead for a plan that would limit the state’s investment to $400 million; form a public-private partnership to complete the new stadium’s construction, operation and maintenance; and create a mixed-use development district.
Given the expense and difficulties involved in the original plan, backing away from a heavy financial commitment to a New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District was the right move.
But even the slimmed down plan is worrisome. Concerns about its financial feasibility have some people wondering whether we’ll ever see a new stadium, much less be able to watch University of Hawaii football games there by 2028, as has been promised.
No doubt the vision for a new stadium has some attractive features. Who can argue with new sporting and other events set in a thriving neighborhood that will include affordable housing, retail outlets and restaurants, as well as easy accessibility via the Skyline — aka the over-budget and behind-schedule Honolulu rail.
Speaking of which, our experience with the still-unfinished rail has done nothing but teach us that promises are not guarantees, and that big government projects tend to come with unexpected costs and delays. Fancy new stadiums might garner a lot of public support, but the promises of additional revenues generated by sports and other events rarely pan out.
Even UH officials seem to be having doubts about the need for a new stadium in Halawa. Since Aloha Stadium closed in December 2020, they have been upgrading their on-campus T.C. Ching Field to accommodate football games, and for a variety of reasons, they might be better off for doing so.
A main advantage is that UH now receives 100% of the revenues from its football games on campus, and does not have to negotiate leases and schedules with a separate stadium authority.
The point is, no matter how big of a UH fan you might be, building a brand new stadium in Halawa mainly to host football games for Oahu residents is not sufficient reason to take on a big project like the proposed New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District.
The issue is not whether we like the vision behind New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District — or whether it would be a nice place to watch a game. Instead, it is whether a new stadium and accompanying mixed-use development would be the best use of that land and hard-to-obtain taxpayer dollars.
There is nothing wrong with changing our minds before sinking yet more money and time into an uncertain project. Especially in light of the state’s ever-changing economic conditions — such as those caused by the destructive and deadly Maui wildfires in August — taking a new look at the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District proposal is the most fiscally responsible move our leaders could take.
Let’s not fall for all the hype and get distracted by yet another shiny object. Hawaii has so many other issues that better deserve our attention and our limited taxpayer dollars.
E hana kākou! (Let's work together!)