Councilmembers question affordability of $773 million Blaisdell makeover

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — County lawmakers pressed for answers today on whether the city can afford to take on a $773 million redevelopment of Honolulu’s Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

Councilmember Kym Pine, chair of the Committee on Business, Economic Development and Tourism, called for the briefing amid questions over how much the public-private model will still cost taxpayers in their share of capital and operational costs.

“Say the requests come back and the best proposal says that the taxpayer will pay 75 percent of these costs, would the mayor still move forward?” Pine asked.

“I can’t speak for the mayor on that,” answered Guy Kaulukukui, director of the county’s Department of Enterprise Services. “I can say that if the comparison is between paying for it 100 percent ourselves through our ability to bond finance, or paying for 75 percent of it, paying for 75 percent of it sounds like the better deal.”

“We’re now going to be paying for the Ala Wai project maintenance, we’re now going to be paying the extra billions of dollars for the rail as well as now 130 million dollars for rail operations. When is enough enough?” Pine asked. “You’re talking about a very nice thing to have when the city is now obligated to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on other projects, so I think you should let the council know what you think is enough and what you think is affordable.”

“If we’re arbitrarily using $500 million, that compares somewhat with what we’ve spent on road repaving through most of the time of the administration,” Kaulukukui said. “If we’re able to afford that over a specific period of time, it suggests that, other things equal, we can afford this.”

“Well as you continue those discussions about affordability,” Pine said, “please keep in mind that the council has been told we don’t have enough money to hire adequate police officers, that we don’t have enough money for lifeguards, that we don’t have enough money for adequate money for parks service staff.”

The makeover would add more parking, exhibition, sports and concert space and open another connecting road between King Street and Beretania. There would also be arts, commercial and dining tenants.

The city aims to shut down the complex at the end of next year, to start rebuilding in January 2021 for two to three years of construction. A link to the administration’s presentation can be seen at