Houston still grasping at ideas for what to do with Astrodome

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.

8 comments on “Houston still grasping at ideas for what to do with Astrodome

  1. I would build a replica of the Deep Space Nine space station in there. C’mon Neil I know you’d dig that idea.

  2. You’d need a retractable roof, though, or else how would the Defiant get in and out to fight the Dominion?

  3. I always wonder where they get the numbers on the demolition figures…it’s been repeated until it’s fact that Olympic Stadium in Montreal would cost $600mil plus to demolish, yet the only source is either the province’s, erm, “connected” construction industry or the agency that itself runs the Olympic buildings and would presumably be dissolved once the Stadium is gone.

    $5-$80 is a moving target, to say the least. I kinda liked the pillars in a park proposal from a bit ago.

  4. I figured you for a Trekkie Neil! I blogged about the idea too: http://davesgeekyideas.com/2014/03/31/idea-for-the-astrodome-convert-it-into-deep-space-nine/

    I just need to ask Houston to pay a few hundred million for it. Problem is I’m not a billionaire.

  5. @Ty: I think that there are asbestos issues in the Big Owe which would vastly inflate (sort of a pun, with the roof) the cost of demolition there.

    Maybe the Astrodome should submit it’s own proposal for hosting the superbowl. Then once they get it, the city/county/state would *have* to renovate it!

  6. Why it wasn’t leveled years ago like every other retired arena/stadium is beyond me. So what if it was the first dome, that’s not really something to celebrate. It was a pit the day it opened and it was a pit the day it closed, blow it up.

  7. Having the dome rusting next door to the ultimate sheep-herding/shearing event could serve as an obvious warning and public service to other locals about selling the farm for pro sports franchises. Maybe “SUCKERS BEWARE” painted across the roof, should be cheaper than $5M.
    What about using the floor for temp controlled sheep grazing? Bahhh-Bahhh…

  8. Seems to me some people want to tear it down, some want to preserve the history, and some want to find an economically-viable use for it. I assume those who want to tear it down are primarily concerned with not throwing good money after bad. Maybe there are reasons this isn’t in play, but what about turning it into some sort of multi-use venue with flexible use options and still has some permanent components preserving and celebrating some of the history of the Astrodome? There are some people with some sentimentality for the Astrodome and everyone understands that an economically-sound idea is easier to sell and ultimately good for the city, why not do something that combines fhe history preservation with museum-like features and the ability to actually use the space for conventions and/or concerts, marketing tradeshows, occasional semi-pro sporting events, etc. You could sell the historical aspect and add the utility of it and maybe leverage the two to sell a location for events that carries some intrigue in the setting because it has some history. I do understand this would be an expensive option to pursue, but it seems like it has more appeal to wider audiences/visitors with varying interests. Some permanent open stores in the place along with some food and drink establishments, some museum-like attributes to draw the sentimental and historically-biased folks, and the ability to host events to bring in revenue seems like it might have a chance to succeed.