Lee Cataluna: Double the disappointment of Aloha Stadium
When is the best time to let go of a long-held but unrealizable dream? Is being realistic the same as giving up?
As reported this week, the former governors of Hawaii. John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie have joined forces to speak out against plans to rebuild a replacement football stadium on the site of the now unusable Aloha Stadium in Halawa.
The New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District would rebuild a smaller stadium to replace the current rusty facility as well as hotels, retail, housing and other venues in and around the 98-acre site. Waihee, Cayetano and Abercrombie say this plan will be a huge waste of taxpayer money, another big doomed dream.
However, the three former governors hardly take the risk of being opponents.
It is easy for a politician to speak the truth when he has nothing to lose. The three are not in office and are not currently seeking to return to an elected position. They no longer have to embrace the construction unions. They don’t need to create fancy visions of a future Hawaii where we have our own NFL team and host big bowl games or professional football games.
They have the privilege of being a former leader – being able to speak with authority without having to take responsibility.
But they are right. The dream of attracting a professional sports team to Aloha Stadium never came true, although the Islanders baseball team, the minor league team that no one liked, resided in the establishment from 1961 to 1987.
The age-old battle to keep a huge state-funded facility standing in the rain sweeping Halawa, beating the sun and corrosive drift of blown sea salt was lost from the start. In recent years, participation in UH football games seemed like social distancing was in place long before anyone had even heard of a pandemic.
It’s hard to admit that Aloha Stadium is a big dream that never really came true, because in some ways – in small, deeply personal ways – it did.
To high school kids running out onto the field for the first time to play a game, those bright lights and looming booths looked like a Hollywood moment. For teams coming from cold universities, running under the golden Hawaiian sun in November and December must have felt heavenly. For the University of Hawaii football team, having a home stadium was a measure of status.
I researched some of the old newspaper stories of the Aloha Stadium opening in September 1975. An article by Star-Bulletin writer Dick Couch included quotes from UH football players who were putting this dream to life. Aloha Stadium from a heartbreaking perspective.
One player described seeing the stadium rise from the Halawa Apartments as he walked back and forth between his home in Wahiawa and the UH campus. “Every time I passed him I got goose bumps,” he said.
“I have seen great stadiums on the continent. But this one has to be the best looking of all, ”said another player.
A star player confessed to having jumped the fence before the stadium officially opened to get a glimpse of the place.
“We sneaked in one night and went straight to the field. We were lying on the grass, looking at the stars. It was beautiful.”
My God !
UH coach Larry Price looked around the stadium on opening day and told the newspaper: “We have been accorded a great honor. We think we have a huge obligation to play as well as we can. Hawaii continued to get creamed in their first game at the stadium, 43-9, by Texas A&I.
The best government building projects meet more than utility needs. They go beyond aesthetics and that spongy descriptive term “Hawaiian sense of place”. The best are also inspiring to humans who will enter the structure or view it from afar. They come to have a deeper meaning for a community, to have a bit of ambitious pride, even to present themselves as the manifestation of a goal achieved.
Aloha Stadium has never been such a magnificent, proud and majestic place. A resized football stadium on the Manoa campus, as the former governors describe it, may not come with many grandiose promises of future economic synergy and a bustling entertainment hub like the NASED plan, but it could. be filled with the palpable energy of student fans who can walk to their dorms to see the games in person and from the bleachers filled with supporters from top to bottom.
The Halawa site would be more useful in meeting the housing needs of residents of Hawaii. It’s a small dream, but a better dream because it’s an achievable goal.