wondering about the eighth wonder
Ken Hoffman perfectly predicts the future of the beloved Astrodome
The Astrodome Conservancy is polling the public for ideas on what do with the abandoned “Eighth Wonder of the World,” (read the CultureMap story here) that sits forlorn and forgotten, quarantined from the public in the middle of NRG Park.
Before you submit, “turn the Dome into a 250-screen multiplex,” bear in mind: any renovation project would have to be paid for mostly by private money, be self-sustaining financially, and supported by the public.
Good luck with all that. In 2013, voters said no to a $217 million project to convert the Dome into a convention and event center. The message was clear, at least it was back then, the public doesn’t want its tax dollars spent on a Dome “reno.” Private investors have failed to step forward on a single project to rescue the Eighth Wonder.
The Dome's destiny
I’ll save everybody a lot of time and getting all worked up, which you’re going to do anyway. Here’s the spoiler on what’s going to happen with the conservancy’s effort to renovate and repurpose the once-gleaming, architecturally wondrous Houston Astrodome.
The Astrodome is designated a “national treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s a Texas State Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Texas Historical Commission has metaphorically lashed itself to the Astrodome like a tree hugger perched in a giant oak threatened to come down to make room for a highway. The Commission says, unless you’ve got a plan and the money to restore the Dome, keep your mitts off this building and don’t even think of tearing it down.
The Astrodome Conservancy has a website, Future Dome, where the public is invited to submit ideas on what do with the Dome. The group hopes to drum up public support for giving the Dome a second act.
It’s hard to imagine what the public will come up with that hasn’t been floated — and sunk — since the Dome shut its doors in 2009. It’s now in permanent lockdown, deemed too dangerous for people to enter by the Houston Fire Department.
Flooding the Dome? Huh?
What do you think should be done with the Astrodome? I’m certain there will be suggestions like turning the Dome into an indoor amusement park, a movie studio, Texas museum, water park, indoor ski jumping — even flooding the Dome floor to recreate great naval battles.
Probably the most reasonable idea of the past decade, turning the Dome into a convention and event center, crashed and burned when the public voted thumbs down on the $217 million proposal in 2013.
That left Harris County Commissioners Court to set aside $105 million in early 2018 to convert the Dome into an underground parking lot and ground level green space.
That project when pffftt when Lina Hidalgo was elected County Judge in late 2018 and put Dome renovation on the back burner. Hidalgo is more interested in addressing the county’s flooding problem, social issues, justice reform, and now protecting voting rights and easing the county out of the pandemic. The Astrodome simply isn’t on her current to-do list.
Astrodome Conservancy representatives did meet with Hidalgo recently. They say that Hidalgo said, fine, come up with ideas for the Dome and we’ll talk about it sometime in the future. Sounds like a blowoff to me, but before 1965, whoever imagined a baseball stadium with a roof?
Would it surprise you if the Houston Texans and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo were in favor of tearing down the Astrodome?
Meanwhile the Astrodome is lying in state next to Houston’s trophy wife, NRG Stadium. The Astrodome is like that one house in an nice neighborhood where the owner doesn’t mow his grass and lets those free weekly newspapers pile up on the lawn.
Cashing in on the Dome's future
The solution that fits all the criteria — financial feasibility, sustainable income and public support — is converting the Astrodome into a casino hotel and resort. That can’t happen because our legislators and governor are steadfastly against legalizing casino and sports gambling in Texas. I guess they’re too busy telling Texans what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
The Dome’s future is a can’t-win situation. Back during the 2013 referendum campaign, I wrote a column saying, “I don’t care what they do with the Dome, just do something. Either fix it up or tear it down.”
The next few weeks, I received nasty emails saying that I was a stooge for supporting the referendum. Dome fans said I was advocating for a wrecking ball.
A book about the Astrodome’s history came out a few months later saying I was a leading media voice leading the charge to demolish the Astrodome.
I still say either fix it up or tear it down. But neither is going to happen. We’ll do what we do best...nothing.