Blaisdell complex ripe for renewal

Now a 50-something, Neal S. Blaisdell Arena is packed with plenty of good memories — concerts with headliners ranging from Elvis to Bruno Mars, graduations and an array other events. But the Honolulu facility is also showing its age. This week, it got snubbed by the Miss Universe pageant, which had considered the space for its 2017 venue.

While the 8,800-seat arena routinely features shows with stage rigging from both the ground up and the ceiling down, the Miss Universe Organization’s elaborate production uses a modern type of ceiling-down apparatus that must bear especially heavy weight. To accommodate such a show, city officials said, the arena must undergo a major renovation.

Consequently pageant organizers are now looking elsewhere for the November event. Australia, the Philippines and Las Vegas had also been contenders to host it. And the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii is rightly bemoaning the city’s severed negotiations as a missed opportunity to “showcase Hawaii to an international audience” as contestants represent scores of countries and the pageant is watched by more than half a billion people.

However, the rebuff also underscores the growing need to follow through with Honolulu Hale’s ongoing efforts to draft a land use plan for repairs and redevelopment at the 22-acre complex — arena, concert hall and exhibition area — that opened in 1964 and draws an annual total of some 800,000 people to events.

A conceptual proposal calls for extending Victoria Street down to Kapiolani Boulevard, building a new exhibition hall, renovating both the arena and the concert hall, and creating more parking spaces. City officials estimate the cost for what would be the complex’s first major overhaul at between $300 million and $400 million, but a timeline and funding source have yet to be set.

Extending Victoria Street, which currently leads into the mauka entrance of the Blaisdell parking lot at South King Street, would require leveling the existing parking structure. But the plan also calls for two new parking structures that would house a total of 2,000 stalls. (The complex now has 1,500 stalls.)

Also, scattered throughout the complex would be lawn areas and water features the city now pitches as a potential “park-like setting” envisioned as both visitor destination and neighborhood amenity. The open areas fronting buildings could serve as striking features in the development of a flowing, integrated corridor bounded by Blaisdell on King Street and the Honolulu Museum of Art on Beretania Street.

Situated in the center, Thomas Square is undergoing $1.18 million in landscaping-focused upgrades. Also in the works are city plans for a statue of King Kamehameha III. The 6.5-acre park is the site where British Rear Adm. Richard Thomas read a declaration that ended a five-month seizure of the islands, restoring the monarch and sovereignty to the Hawaiian Kingdom on July 31, 1843.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell had proposed transferring care of the park from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to the Department of Enterprise Services (DES), which runs pay-to-enter sites such as the Blaisdell complex, the Honolulu Zoo, municipal golf courses and the Waikiki Shell. But last month the City Council shot down the effort, citing concerns that the move could commercialize much-needed urban green space.

The overdue Blaisdell redevelopment plan has potential to help revitalize the complex as well as neighboring areas, such as Thomas Square. What’s more, the plan aims to modernize the arena with a grid that can handle extravaganzas such as the Miss Universe pageant. While an effort to bring the show here to mark the 20th anniversary of when Hawaii’s Brook Lee was crowned in 1997 is now dashed, perhaps organizers could reschedule for, say, the 25th anniversary.


Source: Star-Advertiser, July 3, 2017. Original article here.

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