Saturday, May 26, 2012

The beginning of the end of the Astrodome

Earlier this week, a consultant's report commissioned by Harris County regarding the future of the aging and derelict Reliant Astrodome was released:
The Astrodome, a now-empty showplace that has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, should be turned into a multipurpose facility that could spark fresh interest in the city of Houston, a group of consultants recommended Wednesday.

The $270 million option was one of four considered by consultants led by Dallas-based CSL. The other options included leaving the dome alone, demolishing it and building an outdoor plaza, or building a massive and expensive "renaissance" complex anchored by a luxury hotel.

In a presentation to Harris County's sports and convention agency, the consultants said the multipurpose option could turn Houston into a popular destination for special events and national trade shows. The plan would preserve the iconic structure's outer shell.
Short of the barrage of pie-in-the-sky ideas about turning the Astrodome into a convention hotel or a museum or a soundstage,  I've always thought that turning the Eighth Wonder of the World into some sort of multipurpose facility made the most sense. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo could use it for livestock or entertainment space. Major conventions like the Offshore Techngology Conference could use it as exhibition space. It could be used as premium indoor tailgating space during Texans games.

But here's the problem: according to the study, it will cost $270 million to turn the 47-year-old structure into a multipurpose venue. Couple that with the money it will cost to replace the adjacent Reliant Arena (a rather dreary place where local sports teams go to die), and the resulting cost would likely require a tax hike on Harris County residents:
If voters approve a proposed $523 million bond issue to renovate the Astrodome and replace Reliant Arena, Harris County officials say property taxes likely would have to rise to make the resulting debt payments.

The recommendation to put the plans to a vote came Wednesday from the county's Sports & Convention Corp., the board in charge of county-owned Reliant Park. Consultants pegged the cost to replace the aging arena at $385 million and the price tag to renovate the Dome at $270 million.

Costs could be reduced to a combined $523 million by the use of tax credits, the consultants said. A cheaper option for the Dome would be to knock it down and turn it into a plaza for $64 million. None of those numbers include the $29.9 million the county still owes on the Dome, which hasn't been home to a professional sports team in 12 years and has been deemed unfit for occupancy since 2009.

Bill Jackson, the county's chief budget officer, said such a large bond issue likely would require a tax hike or deep budget cuts, particularly given other projects for which the county will need to sell bonds, such as a forensic sciences facility.
As the article indicates, County elected officials don't really seem to have much of an appetite for a tax increase just to save the iconic yet dilapidated structure. And neither of Reliant Park's main tenants seem overly enthusiastic about the Dome's survival, either; Texans owner Bob McNair is more concerned about keeping the adjacent Reliant Stadium in a state of good repair, and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo chairman Leroy Shafer clearly believes that the future of Reliant Arena is more important than that of the Astrodome. County residents, meanwhile, are probably not about to vote themselves a tax increase.

Given this, as well as the fact that it's much cheaper to demolish the Astrodome than it is to renovate it, I sadly think that the writing is on the wall for the venerable old stadium: sometime in the next few years, it is going to be torn down. John Royal of the Houston Press reluctantly agrees:
I love the Astrodome. It is still the Eighth Wonder of the World, something that will never, ever be said about Reliant Stadium or Minute Maid Park. But something needs to be done. And that something is something I thought I would never write, never say, never believe. It's time to put the Dome out of its misery. It needs to be demolished. Make the space a memorial of some kind with lots of green space and trees. Place statues about the grounds of the great athletes who once roamed the building.

It's not the perfect solution. But it's clear that Harris County officials are incompetent and don't give a damn. The consultants do nothing but spend money and offer up nothing realistic. And if they were asked in private, it's pretty clear Rodeo officials would be more than happy if it were gone.

The Astrodome has suffered enough. Let's just finally end it all now. Before more money's wasted. Before the Dome falls apart further. Before another magical casino/hotel/convention center plan gets offered up as the totally unrealistic solution.
Besides, this is Houston. We do not preserve our architectural legacy in this city. When a building, no matter how historic or iconic or aesthetically pleasing, is no longer functional, we demolish it and build anew in its place. It's sad, but it's just the way it is.

Having grown up watching so many Cougar football and Astros baseball games in the Dome, I know I'll miss it. But Royal is right: neither the public nor the private sector have the money or willpower required to rehabilitate the Astrodome into something useful, and it continues to sit as sad and embarrassing eyesore next to Reliant Stadium, neglected and useless. It's time to put it out of its misery.

The time has come to demolish the Astrodome.

UPDATE: according to a regular poster at, it might make the most economic sense just to leave the Astrodome in is current condition for the foreseeable future.

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