Private partner sought for Blaisdell Center redevelopment

Mayor Kirk Caldwell is hoping to find a private partner to help pay for the planned redevelopment of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center complex.

“The idea is management and operations would be done by a third-party, private company that is experienced in running these kinds of venues around the country” in exchange for helping foot the cost of the redevelopment, Caldwell said Thursday.

The project’s draft environmental assessment was made public this week, and the public will have until Dec. 10 to offer input on the document before a final EA is completed in the spring.

The draft EA calls for the nearly $773 million project to be financed through general obligation bonds issued by the city, “but potential public-private partners would be sought.”

The plan’s key components include:

>> Demolishing the parking garage and replacing it with two parking garages that would add 500 parking stalls for a total of about 2,000 stalls.

>> Demolishing the exhibition hall and reconstructing it with a larger, 95,000- square-foot space that can be divided into three venues. A 1,500-seat performance hall would be incorporated on the mauka end. The current structure consists of a 65,000-square-foot hall.

>> Making major renovations to the arena and concert hall. The 8,000-seat arena would be changed to a theater configuration from its current “bowl” setup so no seat has an obstructed view. Plans also call for its facade to be enclosed in glass. The concert hall’s lobby area would be enclosed and air-conditioned. A restaurant or cafe would be added on the Ward Avenue side. Both buildings would add more restrooms.

>> Adding an arts ensemble building for hula halau, youth orchestras, the Royal Hawaiian Band and other groups to rehearse on the ground level of one of the parking garages.

>> Adding a satellite city hall and additional food and beverage outlets on the ground level of the other parking garage.

>> A 2,500-seat sports pavilion for sports team practices and games on the Kapiolani Boulevard side of the arena.

>> A large, Hawaiian-style fishpond fronting the Kapiolani-Ward intersection, a civic plaza incorporating the existing Elvis Presley statue and an expanded war memorial, additional outdoor venues, gathering places and new landscaping for the 22.4-acre campus.

Ernst and Young has been hired to advise the city on putting out a request for proposals for a private-sector partner for the Blaisdell project.

The draft document estimates the project will cost $772.9 million. The Blaisdell Center Master Plan released in March put the price tag at $716.8 million.

Caldwell, at his State of the City address in April, announced that there would be “a pause” in the Blaisdell project and that construction would not begin “until rail funding is resolved.”

The City Council approved a bill, signed by Caldwell last week, allowing the city to spend up to $214 million in city operating funds for rail construction.

The mayor had received criticism from House Speaker Scott Saiki and others for embarking on the Blaisdell project amid uncertainty about the East Kapolei- to-Ala Moana rail project, which has seen its price tag leap to $8 billion-plus from $5.26 billion only several years ago.

The Blaisdell project would be re-evaluated if rail costs put a greater burden on the city, Caldwell said.

In the worst-case scenario, certain features may be cut, at least in the initial phases of the project, Caldwell said.

The mayor said he envisions the Blaisdell complex as a civic center “that’s activated all the time so no matter when you go there, you’re going to have people moving through the place.”

The public can weigh in on the project’s interactive site, imagineblaisdell.com. Comments can be sent to BlaisdellDEA@aecom.com.

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