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State senator and others 'blindsided' by possible new direction of Aloha Stadium

aloha stadium halawa Pro Bowl Football 2009
Ronen Zilberman/AP
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FR83211 AP
FILE - The San Francisco 49ers mascot holds up a thank-you sign for Hawaiʻi fans during the Pro Bowl NFL football game at Aloha Stadium, in Honolulu on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman)

State Sen. Glenn Wakai was traveling in Japan when he got word that the governor planned to change directions for the Aloha Stadium Entertainment project. As the chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Technology, Wakai told The Conversation he's disappointed with the lack of transparency this late in the development stage.

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STATE SEN. GLENN WAIKAI: I was quite startled. I would have thought that the governor would leave it to whoever is going to succeed him to kind of carry the stadium forward. So it blindsided many of us since the Legislature set up the process, put in the money, and had full expectations that DBEDT was going to lead this construction effort — and was startled to find out that the governor doesn't believe in that and believes that he has a better route. From what I understand, that better route is to have the University of Hawaiʻi now be in charge of the design and construction of the stadium, which I'm not against. But why would you offer that up at this juncture of your governorship tenure? We've spent $20 million in two years on consultants and planners to get us to this point. And if we're going backward, you're going to start from zero — that is a total waste of time and a total waste of money.

CATHERINE CRUZ, HOST OF THE CONVERSATION: Is it your understanding that this idea of UH taking it on was broached earlier? I'm hearing that this was brought up last year.

WAKAI: We had a lot of people at the table a year ago, including UH. And at that time, they showed very little interest in being the point person or point entity for the construction of the stadium. They wanted to have input in, you know, luxury boxes and concessions and all of those things — but they didn't have any inclination at that time to be the government entity driving the construction of the stadium.

CRUZ: I was hearing that they had asked if there was going to be additional support to plan this thing, and I guess maybe had been told no. I mean, that's just what I'm hearing. So I'm trying to run down these scenarios to figure out why this late in the game that the governor would want to switch over to this.

WAKAI: I don't know. And I don't know how receptive — this current plan that Mike McCartney is going to announce in two or so weeks — how receptive UH is even to taking on that role and responsibility.

CRUZ: What if they don't?

WAKAI: Then we're going to go back to the current situation, which was set up by the Legislature, that DBEDT be at the forefront of future development of that entire district.

CRUZ: There is though, all this time that we've lost because my understanding was DAGS was ready to go out several months ago and were just waiting for the go-ahead from the governor and DBEDT.

WAKAI: That EIS and RFP could have gone out in July of 2021. And, I don't know, a lack of urgency, it's been sitting and sitting and sitting on the table for well over a year, and every month that goes by adds $2 million to the cost of construction. So time is not our friend, I don't understand why we have delayed as long as we have over the past year and a half.

CRUZ: The stadium authority does meet on Thursday, I believe they hope to know more. We talked to one member who didn't really know anything about it. And, you know, I guess there are some folks that are questioning whether legally DBEDT can make this switch, whether the stadium authority has to be the one to vote on it — this changing direction.

WAKAI: I think the governor has the power to change the lead agency. I just think that the lack of coordination, the lack of building a coalition to move this thing forward, that's what is troublesome. So if the stadium authority was given notice, UH, all of us, Legislature was given notice, we could all be supportive. But the complete opposite has happened, right? This element of surprise has taken place and caught all of us off guard. And now we're all trying to scramble to figure out what the pieces are and to see how beneficial or not beneficial this new direction is. And I just think that the lack of coordination and lack of honesty and transparency is only frustrating all of us who really want to see this project get done.

CRUZ: We did talk to the two gubernatorial candidates. They're scratching their heads as well because they're ultimately going to be the ones that will be charged with seeing it through — whatever this governor decides.

WAKAI: Yeah and I just don't understand when we have almost eight years of paralysis, why would this administration wake up two months before they're about to leave and cause so much confusion? Just quietly go away and let the next governor, whoever that may be, take over and run this project.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Sept. 28, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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