Astrodome Shame

St Louis absolutely shames Houston on the Astrodome with unabashed big money love of its own historic icon

St Louis shames Houston on Astrodome with big money love of own icon

Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Astrodome, once the home of the Houston Astros and the Houston Oilers, is vacant after being abandoned by pro teams that wanted fancier new stadiums.
The Astrodome, once the home of the Houston Astros and the Houston Oilers, is vacant after being abandoned by pro teams that wanted fancier new stadiums. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 Recognized around the world, the Gateway Arch is a symbol of St. Louis.
Recognized around the world, the Gateway Arch is a symbol of St. Louis.  Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 A team of urban planning experts toured the vacant Astrodome last December.  CultureMap columnist Ralph Bivins, editor of Realty News Report, was embedded in the fact finding mission.
A team of urban planning experts toured the vacant Astrodome last December. CultureMap columnist Ralph Bivins, editor of Realty News Report, was embedded in the fact-finding mission. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 Over 2 million visitors go to the Gateway Arch annually. Some $380 million is being spent to improve the 90 acres of park at the base of the monument.
More than two million visitors go to the Gateway Arch annually. Some $380 million is being spent to improve the 90 acres of park at the base of the monument.  Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Gateway Arch in St. Louis stands 630 feet tall. It was completed on October 28, 1965 for $13 million (almost $200 million in today's dollars)
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis stands 630 feet tall. It was completed on October 28, 1965, for $13 million - almost $200 million in today's dollars. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Gateway Arch, built in 1965, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis.
The Gateway Arch, built in 1965, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis.  Photo by Ralph Bivins
Astrodome
The exterior of the Astrodome will be gussied up before the Super Bowl is played next door in NRG stadium in 2017.  Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Astrodome, which opened in 1965, was the first domed stadium.
The Astrodome, which opened in 1965, was the first domed stadium. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 Steps lead from the Gateway Arch down to the Mississippi River. The riverfront is being improved as part of $380 million program.
Steps lead from the Gateway Arch down to the Mississippi River. The riverfront is being improved as part of $380 million program. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Astrodome, once the home of the Houston Astros and the Houston Oilers, is vacant after being abandoned by pro teams that wanted fancier new stadiums.
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 Recognized around the world, the Gateway Arch is a symbol of St. Louis.
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 A team of urban planning experts toured the vacant Astrodome last December.  CultureMap columnist Ralph Bivins, editor of Realty News Report, was embedded in the fact finding mission.
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 Over 2 million visitors go to the Gateway Arch annually. Some $380 million is being spent to improve the 90 acres of park at the base of the monument.
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Gateway Arch in St. Louis stands 630 feet tall. It was completed on October 28, 1965 for $13 million (almost $200 million in today's dollars)
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Gateway Arch, built in 1965, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis.
Astrodome
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 The Astrodome, which opened in 1965, was the first domed stadium.
Ralph Bivins Astrodome April 2015 Steps lead from the Gateway Arch down to the Mississippi River. The riverfront is being improved as part of $380 million program.

It’s a tale of two cities. Two symbolic structures. Both 50 years old.

For cities that dream big, 1965 was a very good year.

Fifty years ago, St. Louis completed its Gateway Arch in October 1965. It’s an internationally recognized city symbol and St. Louis is currently spending $380 million to upgrade the grounds at the base of the arch.

That same year, Houston opened the Astrodome. It opened 50 years ago this week — April 9, 1965 as the Houston Astros tangled with the New York Yankees in an exhibition game.

A new study by the Urban Land Institute recommends a $242 million redevelopment for the Astrodome, which has been vacant for years. The Astrodome and the area around it could be greener, more park-like, instead of acres of parking that sit vacant much of the time.

Two layers of underground parking can be built underneath the Dome, the ULI says. The floor of the Dome could be used for the Offshore Technology Conference or for places to party before and after Houston Texans games.

The innovative Astrodome, the first air-conditioned covered stadium, was called the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened, so why not put an innovation museum in the Dome?

The Astrodome — the most recognizable building in Houston for many folks in other parts of the country — could be a tourist attraction.

The St. Louis Example

St. Louis certainly has made a grand tourist attraction out of its Arch.  Some 2.4 million people visited the Arch and its grounds last year, says Ryan McClure, communications director for the City Arch River Foundation of St. Louis.

The 90 acres surrounding the Arch are undergoing a massive redevelopment, funded by public sales tax funds approved in an election, and private donations from corporations, foundations and individuals.

 The Astrodome — the most recognizable building in Houston for many folks in other parts of the country — could be a tourist attraction. 

A key portion of the improvements will be covering over a depressed section of freeway that separates the Gateway Arch from St. Louis’ downtown.  With cars passing underneath, a park and pedestrian passageway will lead to the Arch. Dallas did a similar thing a few years ago, covering over a depressed section of the Woodall Rogers Freeway near downtown to create a five-acre park.

The 630-foot tall Arch, controlled by the National Parks Service, is adjacent to the mud-brown Mississippi River, which is dominated by industrial barge vessels. Improvements are underway on the banks of the riverfront by the Arch.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, a Brooklyn landscape architecture firm has designed an extensive redevelopment of the 90-acre park around the base of the Arch, with new trees, plantings and pathways.

The Arch began in 1933 as President Franklin Roosevelt approved the Arch when the nation needed economic stimulus.  It was envisioned as a memorial to celebrate the westward expansion of the United States.

But the Arch has been more than a monument, more than a tourism attraction. “It’s our calling card to the world,” McClure says.

The Astrodome was not meant as a monument to the past. It is a future-looking building born from the vision of entrepreneurs. Our baseball team was named after our newly anointed 1960s-era space explorers. The Dome’s costumed female ushers were called “Spacettes.”

Houston was called Space City then and the whole city worshipped the astronauts, who worked at the new NASA Space Center on the southeast side of town. President Kennedy had challenged the nation to put an astronaut on the moon before the end of the decade and Houston was making it happen. The Astrodome was born from that same space-age, can-do spirit that runs in Houston’s veins.

 If St. Louis can raise that much money, why can’t Houston come up with $242 million? 

While  St. Louis labored for its Arch, Houston was building its Dome. Both were unprecedented feats of engineering and construction know-how. The builders attempted things that had never been done before and erected remarkable structures.

St. Louis is stepping to the plate — now spending $380 million to keep its 1965 masterpiece a vital part of the community.

If St. Louis can raise that much money, why can’t Houston come up with $242 million?

It’s time for the leadership of Houston to lead. Whether it’s Rich Kinder, Ric Campo, Gerald Hines or some of our elected officials, Houston has great leaders who can mobilize this city. A great task lies ahead. May our leaders step forward now on behalf of the Astrodome’s future.

The Astrodome can be transformed into something grander than it ever has been. Let’s dream big . . .  again.

 Ralph Bivins, editor of Realty News Report, is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.