Back in November, Harris County voters rejected a plan to spend $217 million on turning the long-vacant Astrodome into a convention and event center. As the Dallas Morning News’ Mark Lamster points out today, though, in one of those Timesian essays with lots of giant graphics that take up your entire browser because this is the future of journalism, dammit, the Astrodome not only hasn’t been demolished, but plans for its renovation are still kicking around.
The reasons: Demolition would cost “anywhere from $5 million to $80 million, depending on whom you ask,” and the head of the Harris County Commission, Judge Ed Emmett “absolutely opposes tearing down the dome.”
So what happens now?
What a great new idea might look like is an open question. Suggestions thus far have included a science museum celebrating Houston’s history as a center of space exploration and oil production, and transformation of the building into an enormous, doughnut-shaped parking garage, a plan that Emmett opposes. The most realistic option remains the one that was already defeated at the polls: a multipurpose venue that might accommodate events such as concerts, conferences and athletic contests.
So, the “realistic” option is the really expensive one that voters already rejected, because there’s a powerful politician behind it. Though admittedly a giant parking garage would be significantly dumber.
It’s understandable why people would want to retain the Astrodome: It’s historic, it’s kind of a cool building, and it seems a shame not to do something with it. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an economically viable reuse for it — old sports stadiums are notoriously difficult to repurpose, given that they’re pretty much only good for sports, and in the U.S. there are a limited number of teams to go around. What’s shaping up here is a race to do something with the dome — the Houston Texans‘ new Reliant Stadium hosts the Super Bowl in 2017, and Emmett says he doesn’t want the Astrodome “sitting like a rusted ship” next door — and arbitrary deadlines way too often end up spawning really dumb decisions.