Mayor Suspends Blaisdell Renovation, Cites Rail Uncertainty and Election

Feb 3, 2020

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is suspending the Neal S. Blaisdell Center renovation project, citing the uncertainty over the financing and timing of the elevated rail project and the coming switch in city administrations.

In a news release issued Monday, the mayor said the city has determined that it is not prepared to move ahead with the planned renovation of Blaisdell at this time.

A 2018 City & County report put the cost of renovating the 22-acre Blaisdell Center at $772 million.  

"Given that the final construction cost is yet unknown for the last 4.16 miles of our rail system and the Cityʻs financial responsibilities for the operations of the upcoming rail service, in addition to a new administration and City Council starting in less than one year, we decided that it is a logical time to pause the project," he stated.

HART CEO Andrew Robbins declined to comment on the mayor's statement, saying that only the cost of the final four-mile section of the project will not be known until later this year. 

Construction bids for the four-mile section are due in April and HART expects to announce a winner in May. The price tag is estimated to be between $1 billion and $1.4 billion.

The $9 billion, 20-mile rail line is the state's most expensive public project in history, has suffered major cost overuns and delays and is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation.

The mayor said the suspension of the renovation is "disappointing" since the Blaisdell center needs major upgrades to serve the public and attract world-class events to Honolulu. He said he hopes the next administration will take advantage of the planning and vision for a new facility and work on a public-private partnership to share the financial risks.

Caldwell is wrapping up his last term as mayor and is reported to be considering a run for governor.

A request for proposals to renovate the Blaisdell was scheduled in 2018, but Guy Kaulukukui, director of the city Department of Enterprise Services that is managing the project, told Pacific Business News in June that the process had to slow down to meet a state requirement on general contracting.

The timeline for the project called for a RFP to take place in December 2019. Selection of a partner was to take place in August this year and demolition of the Blaisdell to follow in early 2021.

HPR's Ryan Finnerty contributed to this report.