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New Astrodome Drama

Astrodome still in complete limbo: Demolition vote now questioned by public officials as drama drags on

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Astrodome towers demolition Dec. 8, 2013
The future of the Astrodome is still uncertain.  Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
Astrodome the New Dome Experience recommendation Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation
Harris County voters rejected a bond proposal that would have funded the New Dome Experience.  Courtesy of Harris County Sports & Convention Corp.
Astrodome sale and auction November 2013 people in line inside
Astrodome fans lined up to buy memorabilia in November 2013. Photo by Houstorian/Twitter
Astrodome towers demolition Dec. 8, 2013
Astrodome the New Dome Experience recommendation Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation
Astrodome sale and auction November 2013 people in line inside

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett identified one very specific goal for the Wednesday morning meeting with various stakeholders about the future of the Astrodome.

"The whole purpose of today is to make everyone is on the same page," Emmett said.

During the approximately 45 minute long session, Emmett provided an overview of the Dome's current status in the wake of voters rejecting a bond proposal in November and recent moves by the Texas Historical Commission to designate the Dome as a State Antiquities Landmark. He then outlined the various considerations about the Astrodome's status and concluded with a few next steps.

  "We've had one private group after another come in . . . so far, no one has come in with money." 

Various groups connected to the future of the Dome attended the event, including representatives from historical preservation societies, the Houston Texans, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation and the daughter of Judge Roy Hofheinz, the man who led the effort to build the Dome.

"No action is being contemplated this morning," Emmett told the room. Instead the meeting was designed "more to lay the groundwork" for future action and clear up misconceptions. The judge called the Dome one of "the great frustrations of mine in public life . . . (It's) time for everybody to know where we are." 

First, November's no vote on the bond issue did not automatically mean the Astrodome would be torn down. Emmett said that people tell him, " 'We voted to demolish the Dome.' No, you didn't."

Now that the Texas Historical Commission is considering designated the Dome as a State Antiquities Landmark, "we cannot go forward with any plan without the Historical Commission's sign off," Emmett, echoing the reporting from CultureMap's exclusive on April 29.

Turning to the various considerations, Emmett noted the County lacks the funds necessary to redevelop the Dome without a bond issue, and the private sector hasn't been helpful either. "We've had one private group after another come in . . . so far, no one has come in with money."

While Emmett concedes some people consider the vacant Astrodome an eyesore, he said there's no urgency from either a physical standpoint or from the fact Houston's hosting the Super Bowl in 2017. After all, the Dome stood vacant when Houston hosted its last Super Bowl in 2004.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo would like to build a new arena on the NRG campus, but the Astrodome isn't ideal for the purpose. First, Emmett said it would be very expensive to convert the Dome into a suitable facility, and its location in the center of the property would make getting livestock in and out difficult.  Emmett noted that there's some community pressure to save the Astrodome, but insists his primary concern is "doing what's right by" the county taxpayers.  

Another misconception is that the County owes $30 million on the Dome. An official at the meeting claimed that 95-percent of all outstanding payments are connected to the work done to prepare the site for the Texans in 2002 and 2003 and that using the principle of "first in, first out" the Dome itself is essentially debt free. Also, the County is not paying $3 million to maintain the Dome.  

The only direct cost comes from operating and maintaining the pumps that prevent the Astrodome from flooding, which is approximately $160,000 per year. Insurance and security costs are distributed across the complex. The various entities at NRG Park use the Dome as 80,000 square feet of warehouse space. If it were torn down, a replacement would have to be built. 

In the short term, nothing will happen to the Dome until the Historical Commission considers the SAL-application at a meeting on July 30. If that's approved, the Historical Commission will have the ability to weigh in on the Dome's future.

What that future is — no one knows. Still.