UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII ATHLETICS
Stadium moves toward waiving UH rent
A committee makes the recommendation with the vote scheduled for April
The Aloha Stadium authority moved forward on two major issues during a 2 1/2-hour meeting yesterday, but went back to square one in its search for a new manager.
A committee recommended waiving rent for University of Hawaii football games beginning in the 2006 season, and the authority voted to act on state comptroller Russ Saito's advice to lock the stadium in football configuration.
UH pays close to $350,000 in rent each year to the stadium. Critics, including Gov. Linda Lingle, have said one state agency should not be paying another rent.
Authority member Howard Ikeda said he studied budget projections with stadium staff and determined that the stadium would be financially solvent without rent money from UH for at least the next several years.
"We can cover our operating expenses without the revenue from UH and we have a cushion," said Ikeda, who used a model of seven games per season and an average attendance of 27,000. "Notwithstanding a total disaster, these projections should hold."
During discussion, the authority was not in complete agreement.
Authority member Alvin Narimatsu asked UH athletic director Herman Frazier if the football program makes money. Frazier replied that it profited $8 million last year.
"If football is making $8 million, why are we giving them free rent?" Narimatsu then asked.
Frazier responded by saying, "You're making money off the football program," citing parking and concessions that go to the stadium. "We pay the visiting teams' guarantees (and UH's) scholarships and salaries."
Authority chairman Kevin Chong Kee then interceded.
"We're not concerned with whether they're making a profit or not," Chong Kee said. "It's about one state agency helping another."
Narimatsu suggested that the authority waive the rent (which is the greater of 7 1/2 percent of gross sales or $10,000 per game) just for the 2006 season and then re-evaluate.
But Ikeda's proposal already allows the authority to charge rent later if it deems it necessary.
"We're keeping a backdoor," Ikeda said. "Hopefully we don't need it."
UH will still pay the stadium for operating expenses.
"It becomes a partnership," Frazier said.
Lingle called the finding "a good one for the stadium, the university and the community," in a statement yesterday.
"It's concerned me for a long time that the university has been treated like a commercial enterprise, and why so much of the revenue they are able to generate is given to the stadium," Lingle said. "The university should be given favorable treatment, for they provide games that bring the community together and foster a sense of pride and aloha for fans across the state."
The authority will vote on the issue at its next meeting on April 27. It is also scheduled on that day to decide on locking the stadium into football configuration -- which could save the stadium and the state money, Saito said.
A study commissioned by the state concluded that a new stadium is not economical compared to repairs, which would cost $25 million. The repairs need to be done in the next two to five years, and can extend the stadium's life 20 to 30 years, according to the study.
"There are two options. Fix the stadium or eventually have to close it down," Saito said. "You can't build a new stadium fast enough. It would take at least seven years.
"No one can predict when there will be a safety issue, but it will become a safety issue."
Locking the stadium into football configuration would also allow stadium improvements, including luxury suites that can bring in more revenue through big events.
The stadium is lobbying the legislature for $129 million for repairs and enhancements over the next five years. Saito said the investment will make the state money in the long run.
On the downside, baseball could not be played at the stadium and it would not be optimal for other events. An adjustment to the stands that would cost less than $1 million can be made that would allow for major soccer events.
Also at yesterday's meeting, the authority announced it decided not to fill the stadium manager position after interviewing the two finalists. The committee tasked with finding a replacement for retired manager Eddie Hayashi will now start an expanded search.
The authority promoted Scott Chan (one of the manager finalists) from assistant events manager to interim deputy manager. Former deputy manager Kenny Lum has been the acting manager since Hayashi's retirement last fall.