Experts discuss future, renovation options for Blaisdell

Neal S. Blaisdell Arena

For half a century, the iconic Neal S. Blaisdell Center has played host to just about everything, from sporting events to legendary concerts. It has been a hub of activity for decades, but the area has also seen its fair share of pitfalls, including parking problems, leaking roofs and outdated facilities.

The city wants to redevelop the Center to keep it going for another 50 years, so it’s embarking on an ambitious long-term plan to redevelop the area into a cultural and arts district. On Friday, Caldwell hosted a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute, who are consulting with the city to come up with a conceptual plan for the 22-acre area. Although nothing has been set in stone, some possibilities were discussed, including moving the arena into the space now occupied by the exhibition hall, or even combining all three of the Blaisdell’s facilities into one.

“I’d like to see more green space,” said Caldwell. “I would like to see the water that’s there. Think about the old war plantation and the pond. How do we bring that water out so people can see it more and it tells the story? It’s a very quiet, soothing kind of thing too.”

Researchers suggested creating an outdoor “living room” to accommodate hands-on activities and pop-up programming, such as musicians before and after shows, adding complementary retail space, such as a coffee or smoothie shop or a museum-style destination store, and creating a district alliance that would oversee joint programming and promotions.

They also explored potential revenue sources, like an LED sign for advertising, marketing analysis to adjust parking rates, private parking, diversified food and beverage options, the introduction of seat and cultural arts taxes and sponsorship sales.

With the expected boom in residential development in Kakaako and the upcoming rail transit project, the city says now is the time to think about a long-term plan for the area.

“We asked the bigger question,” said Caldwell. “Let’s look at the long-term before we start putting money every year — three million here, four million there.”

Long-time promoter Tom Moffatt, who’s brought in internationally-known artists, says he likes the arena’s intimate atmosphere, but says improvements like more parking would be a big help.

“When you have the Lion King in the concert hall and then you have a sold-out show in the arena, parking becomes a problem,” said Moffatt.

The mayor says he’d like to see changes happen within three to six years, but emphasizes the need for community involvement.

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