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Proposed Blaisdell Center facelift could come with $500M price tag

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Big, expensive changes are proposed for the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

On Thursday, nearly 150 people attended the city's second workshop to weigh-in on the city's "Master Plan" for the center.

"I'm just here to put my two cents in, like I hope everybody else is.. and be concerned about your own neighborhood in which you live," Father Jim Danner said. "I'm always concerned about the Blaisdell because we do so much with it and it's so much part of our society here in Hawaii."

From concerts to craft fairs-- for more than half a century, the Blaisdell Center has been Honolulu's premier location for entertainment and the arts.

But in order to keep up with the 21st century, the center, formally known as the Honolulu International Center (HIC), is in desperate need of significant repair and renovation.

"The art culture is the sweetness of life and we want to make sure it thrives in this place," Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

The city says they are still in the planning phase, and for the past two years have been working with various stakeholders and community leaders on a future plan for the 22.4 acres of land.

"We plan to retain the arena and significantly rehabilitate it, and do the same thing with the concert hall, but do a complete makeover of the middle part of the campus," director of Department of Enterprise Services, Guy Kaulukukui said.

Preliminary site designs revealed at Thursday's meeting, showed plans for a newly developed Exhibition Hall, with the addition of a small performance hall attached, a Halau/Arts ensemble, a sports pavilion, added water features, and more parking.

"Parking is always an issue and I see that constantly from where I live. That when they have multiple events here, it's hard to put all that together," Danner said. "A lot of the other areas around here-parking areas- the spaces are starting to be used up for other purposes such as housing.. and high rises.. and so we have to have a master plan that takes all things into effect."

With approximately 800,000 visits per year to the Blaisdell Center, the proposed plan would increase parking capacity from about 1,500 to 3,000 stalls.

But the estimated cost to revamp the Blaisdell Center?

"Our initial very, very high level estimate is in the range of about $400 million to $500 million," Kaulukukui said.

It's still early in the process, but the Kaulukukui says they intend to finance the project and seek "Development Partners" to help reduce the cost for the city and taxpayers.

"We're looking at various sources of funding. It could be the traditional issuing of bonds, which is how we pay for all improvement in the city and county of Honolulu, or it could be a public-private partnership," Caldwell added.

The city says its design team will take all of Thursday night's feedback and incorporate it into the plan.

Another public meeting is scheduled for this November.

The city says a final design for the Neal S. Blaisdell Center is expected to be completed by the end of 2018, with construction beginning in 2019.

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