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If Colorado State can build it, why can’t Hawaii?

Updated: 
September 28, 2017 - 12:05am

Imagine, if you can, a college football stadium completed on time, on budget and on campus, all without need of state funds or tuition dollars.

Picture a gleaming state-of-the-art facility that managed to open less than two years after the groundbreaking, less than three years after getting the administrative go-ahead and unburdened by costly change orders and overruns.

And not at some deep pockets Power Five conference school, either.

What constitutes some faraway dream for the University of Hawaii has been jackpot reality for its Mountain West Conference opponent this week, Colorado State.

More than 3,300 miles — and lightyears distant in the execution — from aging Aloha Stadium, the site of Saturday’s game, the Rams’ 41,000-capacity (permanent seating 36,500) facility, Sonny Lubick Field at Colorado State Stadium, opened last month to a sellout crowd and rave reviews.

Meanwhile we wait to see what might become of the rust palace in Halawa and whether it will crumble before a decision on its future is put into action.

In December 2014, when the CSU Board of Governors met to discuss a proposal for a new stadium, the school was staring at a $60 million maintenance price tag just to keep the nearly half-century-old Hughes Stadium operating. Years of deferred repairs and maintenance were piling up.

Instead of sinking millions into patching up the existing facility built on limestone out by the Horsetooth Reservoir, CSU officials unveiled a bold initiative to return to campus with a $220 million stadium over nearly 18 acres. It was backed by a plan pledged to deliver a new stadium financed by investors and donors without tapping state funding.

Bond payments were to be made from stadium revenues and private donations.

When bonds went on sale three months later, they sold out in less than 90 minutes, officials said. And a specific series of bonds within the package were as much as three times oversubscribed. Together they are said to account for $239 million.

Four levels of premium seating, some carrying as much as a $400 charge on top of the ticket face value, sold out and season ticket sales, which had never topped 12,000, reached 15,507.

An upsurge in student interest meant that there have been few empty seats among the 10,000 set aside for them. Nearly 100 non-football community and private events have already been booked for the facility.

CSU wanted a lot — multi-purpose stadium, alumni center, football operations unit, 9,100-square-foot weight room, sports medicine area, Hall of Champions, player/recruit lounge and academic center — for its money.

Candidly, some who said they were initially skeptical will tell you they feel like they got it.

Meanwhile, UH waits to see what will happen in Halawa. The project awaits the continued stepladder approval and funding necessary to move along a process that is already more than three and a half years in the making.

The current scenario would replace the current 50,000-seat stadium with a 30,000- to 35,000-seat facility expandable to 40,000 on the present Halawa footprint in five to seven years that could be aided by ancillary development.

The cost is projected to be upwards of $324 million but less than the $423 million currently forecast just to keep the current stadium operational for the next 25 years. Both figures are in 2017 dollars and continue to escalate with each passing year.

Next year, when it is scheduled to play in Fort Collins, Colo., UH will have the opportunity to see CSU’s new home up close. When it might get one of its own, however, remains anybody’s guess.

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