Star-Bulletin Sports

AstroTurf makers
refuse to snooze

The company says it should
have been allowed to bid, but
the NFL wants Fieldturf

By Dave Reardon

A vice president of the company that makes AstroTurf said it can install a new softer artificial surface at Aloha Stadium for substantially less than a price proposed by competing company Fieldturf. But the state may be locked into replacing the surface with Fieldturf because of a contract with the NFL.

"The $877,500 they're quoting is way high," said Jim Savoca of Southwest Recreational Industries, referring to Fieldturf's proposal. "I think we can be in the $500,000-to-$600,000 range (to install AstroPlay)."

But Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) Executive Director Rick Humphreys said the HTA's contract with the NFL (which plays the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium) calls for natural grass "or an acceptable alternative, and the only acceptable alternative according to the NFL is Fieldturf."

NFL officials have said they will pay for part of the Fieldturf installation.

Humphreys said the HTA is exempt from state procurement laws that provide for competitive bidding.

Also, Fieldturf CEO John Gilman said there is a fundamental difference between his product and AstroPlay. AstroPlay is composed of rubber, while Fieldturf is a patented rubber and sand mixture, Gilman said.

"We've already sued this company several times for patent infringement," Gilman said. "AstroPlay is all rubber. After we successfully sued them in 1998, part of the settlement was they would not do our sand and rubber mix.

But Gilman claims that SWR continues to violate the patent.

"There are three suits in front of courts now," Gilman said. "There's one in Lexington, Ky., that should be the mother of all and get rid of these guys who have acted in a terrible fashion."

Savoca said AstroPlay is as good as Fieldturf, and his company deserves a chance to bid on the job. He said his product includes a pad under the playing surface that Fieldturf doesn't.

"The Chicago Bears will be playing on it this year (at the University of Illinois), the New York Giants practice on it," said Savoca, who also named several colleges that have AstroPlay facilities. "Replacing the current field is crazy, but if it's going to go this way, let us play. We're gonna fight because we've enjoyed our partnership with Aloha Stadium."

Humphreys said it is out of his hands.

"If they want, they can contact the NFL," he said. "If the NFL gave us more than one alternative it would be different. We are very comfortable with Fieldturf."

The HTA meets today at 1:30 p.m. at its Hawaii Convention Center office. The Stadium Authority, which makes final approval of any changes, meets tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the stadium.

The current AstroTurf has five years left on an eight-year warranty and cost taxpayers $2.4 million. But in addition to the NFL's requirements, coaches and players say the surface causes more injuries than grass or softer artificial turf.

Also, Gov. Ben Cayetano expressed support for replacing the surface with Fieldturf after meetings last week.-

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