The Harris County Commissioners Court accepted a plan Tuesday that might actually save the Astrodome.
The commissioners signed off on a $105 million proposal that would create nine acres of open space for festivals and other uses inside the Dome over a two-level parking garage with 1,400 spaces. The garage would be carved out by raising the current floor of the Astrodome two levels.
The plan, presented by the county engineering department at the behest of Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, would leave the Dome intact while creating the indoor space for festivals, conventions, conferences like OTC, and Rodeo events, officials said.
It is far less ambitious plan than Emmett envisioned in 2014, when he proposed the idea of converting the Astrodome into the world's largest indoor park with hike, bike and fitness trails, an income-generating amphitheater, and a Science, Techonology, Engineering and Mathematics Center.
But it is an important first step in making the Dome useable again. Amid much debate, it has sat largely empty since 2003 when George Strait & the Ace in the Hole Band performed the last concert there. It gained national attention in 2005 when it was used to house 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
In 2013, voters turned down a $217 million bond proposal to refurbish the neglected "Eighth Wonder of the World" into a multi-purpose event center.
The current plan does not require voter approval because the funding will come from the county budget and expected revenue from parking and rentals. With the Dome intact, other park-like attractions may be developed in the future.
The plan must still pass muster with the Texas Historical Commission and Harris County commissioners must vote to authorize design and construction, which, if approved, will not begin until after the February 2017 Super Bowl.