City & County of Honolulu

Waipio soccer
operations under fire

The city's failure to find a private
operator costs $750,000 yearly

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

The city is continuing to spend $750,000 annually to operate the 18-month-old Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex, a facility Mayor Jeremy Harris promised would be cared for by private interests.

"I and other Council members approved this project with the understanding that maintenance and management would be carried out by a separate entity, and now the rug's been pulled out from underneath us," Councilman Duke Bainum said yesterday.

Bainum said he is so upset that he might vote to reject funding for construction of aquatics and tennis complexes at Central Oahu Regional Park that city officials also hope can be privatized.

City Parks Director Bill Balfour told members of the Budget Committee that the $750,000 for operations and maintenance pays for the salaries of about 12 maintenance workers and for fertilizer, herbicides, equipment and other costs.

The city issued several requests for bids to have an outside operator. Balfour said six applicants came forward, but all insisted their operations be subsidized with taxpayer money.

"Every one of them wanted big-time concessions and money, and I had a real problem with that," Balfour said. "The decision was made that we would go forward and operate it."

When pitching the $11 million soccer complex to the Council, Harris said he expected local soccer groups to pick up the cost of operating and maintaining the facility.

The groups were supposed to generate money for operations via fees from national or international tournaments, overseas professional groups using the facility, entry fees for major events, sponsorships and other contributions.

"The reality is, we're 2,500 miles away from the nearest land mass," Balfour said. "We do have people passing through from east to west, but to sustain a whole year's operation, I think that's the problem."

The Central Oahu Regional Park's aquatics and tennis complexes, both now in the planning phases, also are supposed to be operated by private groups. But Balfour indicated that the likelihood of that happening appeared slim.

The city is also looking at a private operator for Waimea Falls Park, which the city recently gained control of and is negotiating to purchase.

"My guess is, our first success (with a private operator) is going to be at Waimea Falls Park," Balfour said. "It has the best potential at the moment. There's a given entity there; there's a track record."

Bainum said he is thinking twice about supporting the aquatics and tennis centers, both of which are part of the coming fiscal year's capital improvements budget.

"What we find is, the cash flow and events are coming in slow, but the grass is growing all the time and needs to be cut," Bainum said. "If we really have to be facing $750,000 worth of maintenance, that tells me that we've got to look very carefully about building huge projects like this if the cash flow is not there."

Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said she also is disappointed that a private vendor is not operating the Waipio complex and that the Council needs to consider operational costs when deciding whether to fund attractive but often costly projects.

"Operations and maintenance are big expenses because they go on forever," she said.

The Council should perhaps consider seeing a written agreement before agreeing to fund construction, Kobayashi said.

City & County of Honolulu

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