What a $44 Million Renovation Will Do for Honolulu’s Blaisdell Center
Find out what improvements are being made to the concert and exhibition halls, arena and facilities—and when you can expect closures for the refresh.
Think of the $43.6 million renovation of the 59-year-old Neal S. Blaisdell Center like knee replacement surgery for the aging entertainment complex: The work isn’t very visible, glamorous or particularly expensive, but when it’s done, everything should function better than it does now.
That’s because most of the projects address health, safety and deferred maintenance with behind-the-scenes work to modernize the center’s internal support systems, says Ian Scheuring, the city’s deputy communications director.
This is not the $772 million overhaul of the Blaisdell campus that former Mayor Kirk Caldwell proposed. That was scrapped in 2020 amid mounting problems with rail and rising costs.
A variety of construction and infrastructure improvement projects to the Blaisdell’s arena, concert hall, exhibition hall and meeting rooms will require temporary closures of portions of the campus through June 2024. “It’s not about bringing the arena into the future; it’s about bringing the arena and that facility into the present,” Scheuring says.
Party Like It’s 1964
While doing a walk-through of the project, Scheuring says he lost count of the times that Blaisdell staff said: “This is original from 1964; this has been here since the day we opened.”
The Blaisdell Center was called the Honolulu International Center when it opened in 1964. The exhibition hall and administrative building, including the galleria and box office, were renovated in 1992.
Over the decades, the complex has hosted thousands of events: Broadway shows, pop and rock concerts, boxing, mixed martial arts bouts, the Ice Capades, circuses, sports tournaments, graduations, Made in Hawai‘i Festivals, trade shows and much more. One of the most famous was the Elvis Presley “Aloha from Hawai‘i” satellite-live concert that was beamed around the world to more than 1.5 billion people in January 1973.
SEE ALSO: Your Ultimate Guide to Concerts and Live Music in Honolulu
Even though Elvis has left the building, the city says much of the technology from his time remains. Scheuring says the arena just wasn’t built to handle the electrical load for massive screens, LED projectors, smoke machines and other modern entertainment enhancements. And, if you walk backstage at a concert, you have to navigate large rubber-mat-covered power cables on the ground. Scheuring says those will be moved to an overhead grid.
What’s Closed and When?
The arena closure began in May and is expected to continue through November. The exhibition hall closures are set for June to August 2023 and Hawai‘i Suites meeting rooms through October 2023. Concert hall closures are scheduled from July 2023 to June 2024. Some events have been postponed while others have been shifted to still-open portions of the Blaisdell Center. Still others have been moved to the Tom Moffatt Waikīkī Shell.
Scheuring says the venue still has incandescent bulbs that need to warm up. And even the doors lack anti-slam protection so they need to be padded with pieces of carpet to prevent performance interruptions. City officials remain hopeful the renovation will keep the facility running smoothly through its 60th anniversary next year and beyond.
Other cities have watched as the average life span of public arenas that host NFL teams and other franchises has dropped from 50 years to 30 years and is now less than 20 years. How might audience members benefit from these renovations? Scheuring says the updates might attract shows with more technical demands.
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Some of the Practical Highlights:
- More bathrooms! At the arena, all public restrooms will be renovated and made accessibility-compliant, 12 sinks and 10 toilets will be added to the women’s side, and two new family restrooms will be added.
- The concert hall’s pulley system of rigging from 1964 will be replaced and the dressing rooms renovated.
- Exhibition hall: The kitchen facility is being renovated for on-site food preparation.
- For the overall campus, changes in lighting and walkways and paving of deteriorated spots are expected to make the area easier to navigate: “We are improving lighting in public area walkways to address safety, aesthetics and energy efficiency.”
- Click here to find the latest updates to the closed-for-construction schedule.