Miss Universe 2017, no longer in Hawaii

The Miss Universe Organization had been negotiating with local authorities to bring the 2017 edition to Hawaii this November

By Allison Schaefers , Star Advertiser

 The event was planned to be held November 26th at the Neil S. Blaisdell arena in Honolulu

The event was planned to be held November 26th at the Neil S. Blaisdell arena in Honolulu

Efforts to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Honolulu this year — the 20th anniversary of when Hawaii’s Brook Lee was crowned — ended this week after pageant officials determined that the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena did not meet the event’s structural requirements.

Lee, who became the only Native Hawaiian to wear the crown when she won the 1997 pageant, had been working with a host committee to bring the event to Honolulu for a second time. Hawaii paid $3.3 million to host the 1998 pageant, which was then owned by President Donald Trump, to capitalize on the publicity generated from Lee crowning her successor in her home state.

City Enterprise Services Director Guy Kaulukukui said the department was contacted by Miss Universe representatives in May and had been working closely with “the pageant’s local and national representatives to accommodate their needs for the event and the days leading up to the actual show.”

The city had arranged for the pageant to use the arena for two weeks and the concert hall for one week in November, Kaulukukui said. But in recent days pageant organizers told the city that they were no longer considering the arena or Honolulu, he said.

Miss Universe officials did not return a call or an email from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; however, its website says competition sites are selected based on “city infrastructure and capabilities of the venue for production.”

Miss Universe has not announced its 2017 venue; however, according to news reports, earlier contenders included Australia, the Philippines and Las Vegas.

“It was determined by the pageant that the arena’s structural capacity for suspending overhead equipment above the stage area was insufficient for the show’s needs,” Kaulukukui said. “However, arena weight capacity has not been a limiting factor for shows staged in that venue over recent years, for example Bruno Mars, WWE, Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, Garth Brooks, Mariah Carey and more.”

 Brooke Lee, Miss Universe 1997 was a key figure in the negotiations

Brooke Lee, Miss Universe 1997 was a key figure in the negotiations

Brook Lee said Thursday that there were enough financial commitments to bring the event to Hawaii; however, the most recent global structural engineering analysis that the city could provide was from 1994. Paula Shugart, president of The Miss Universe Organization, sent an email to the Hawaii Tourism Authority on Wednesday saying that she was disappointed that the event could not be held in Hawaii and expressing concern about Blaisdell Arena.

“Our key rigger was sent to Hawaii this past Monday and his report yesterday was not favorable. He had serious cause for concern in the facility being able to structurally accommodate a show of our size. He could not in his professional capacity, sign off on the facility and in fact, indicated that there do not appear to be any up-to-date structural plans in existence,” Shugart said in the email, which has been widely circulated in political circles.

The Stan Sheriff Center (venue in 1998), the only other site big enough for the event, was already unavailable for the pageant’s November dates, so the Blaisdell issue “brought everything to a halt,” said Rick Fried, HTA board chairman.

Fried told the Star-Advertiser that HTA had met multiple times with pageant organizers this year. The agency was awaiting additional information when it was informed that the pageant was ending negotiations, he said.

“I think this is an unusual requirement that’s peculiar to Miss Universe and their rigging needs,” Fried said.

According to news accounts, the pageant’s 1998 prime-time show was a circuslike extravaganza that relied on major set construction, specialized rigging and advanced technology. It transformed half of the floor of Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus into a miniature island with blue sea and rotating coral sand mountains. Scenic images of Hawaii were projected on 16-foot screens as “sailing warriors” swayed back and forth at angles made possible by special harnessing.

Fried said he hopes the pageant will consider Hawaii for next year, but also hoped organizers would start the process earlier.

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, said venues across Hawaii must realize the importance of conducting regular safety and standards checks.

“We need to be world class. We don’t want to lose opportunities,” Menor-McNamara said. “The pageant is held in over 190 countries worldwide and is seen by more than half a billion people annually. It would have provided a good opportunity to showcase Hawaii to an international audience.”

If the pageant had been held at the arena, Kaulukukui said, the Miss Universe group would have paid rent, and food concessions would have been open.

The Blaisdell Arena issue comes just six months after the city released a new master plan for Blaisdell Center calling for the arena and concert hall to be renovated and a new exhibition hall to replace the existing one. The city’s website says most center facilities were built in 1964, so they are “facing increasing maintenance and renovation needs and were not designed to meet the demands of today’s users.”

“These facilities mean so much to so many people and bring back cherished memories, whether it’s the Elvis concert, graduations or sporting events. We look forward to improving the Blaisdell for many more generations of Hawaii residents,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement.