- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Millions of visitors come to vacation in Hawaii each year, but state lawmakers say more would come to the islands if there were more sporting events.

Lawmakers are considering a bill to establish a Hawaii Sports and Entertainment Authority, which would work to grow the state’s appeal as a destination for national and international teams and performers. The bill would establish an 11-member board to be in charge of researching and marketing Hawaii’s sports industry.

“Over the years, there’s been kind of a general feeling that we’re not doing enough, and more can be done,” said Rep. Scott Nishimoto, who introduced the bill.

The measure comes in the wake of snags in recent events ranging from concerts to soccer games. In 2013, the University of Hawaii was allegedly scammed out of $200,000 to organize a Stevie Wonder concert that never happened. Last year, the United States Women’s National Team match planned at Aloha Stadium was canceled because of problems with turf that was “unfit, unsafe and unplayable,” according to a letter from U.S. Soccer Federation.

In a state without any major sports teams and aging event venues, critics wonder whether the costs of establishing another government agency will outweigh the benefits of bringing more events to Hawaii.

Nationwide, visitor spending for sporting events totaled $8.9 billion in 2014, the bill said. But in Hawaii, only a small fraction - about 105,000 - out of 8.1 million visitors came to the islands for sports.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is already tasked planning sporting events, said Sen. Donna Mercado Kim. It could cost nearly $1 million to get the Hawaii Sports and Entertainment Authority up and running, which doesn’t include costs of marketing to bring events here, she said.

“It makes you wonder why we want to spend a lot of money on more bureaucratic-type expenses and growing government unnecessarily,” Kim said.

Hawaii taxpayers already spend millions on sporting events, she said. The contract to host the Pro Bowl in 2016 cost taxpayers $5 million. Meanwhile, the state agency in charge of Aloha Stadium says the 40-year-old venue could face a $200 million backlog in “high-priority” health and safety repairs to keep it running.

But supporters of the bill say Hawaii’s location between the U.S. mainland and Asia could help it thrive as a destination for sports. Hawaii already hosts events such as the Ironman Championship, the NFL Pro Bowl and the Sony Open.

Hawaii’s tropical climate makes it an attractive alternative for event organizers looking to avoid cold weather, said the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

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