dome's day scenario
Like the swallows returning to Capistrano or Congress threatening to shut down the government, it’s become an annual event: a group comes forward with a plan to renovate the forlorn Houston Astrodome and turn it into a … something.
Ever since the Astrodome closed its doors in 2008, and was officially condemned a year later, groups have floated ideas to convert the one-time Eighth Wonder of the World into a casino, museum, resort hotel, movie studio, ski jumping facility, amusement park, indoor golf, waterpark, archery range and a million other things.
Some of the ideas were realistic. Some were cockamamie. One group took floating an idea literally and said why not flood the Astrodome floor and recreate history naval battles?
The latest Dome's-day scenario
The latest plan making the media rounds is presented by an LLC called Astrodome reIMAGINEd. The idea, as we reported, is to use private funds to create an entertainment complex with restaurants, shops and even different-sized football fields on the floor.
The proposal has Houston catching Astrodome fever again. What to do with Houston’s most famous landmark? It’s an emotional issue that gets people all worked up with no place to go.
This time around the Astrodome buzz has a new wrinkle. Some are pondering publicly if the Astrodome, just by sitting there, is preventing NRG Stadium from being awarded another Super Bowl. As though the NFL is threatening Houston, either renovate the Dome or tear it down if you want another Super Bowl.
I’ll tell you what’s going to happen to the latest plan, just like what happened with all the other plans:
And I’m calling BS on NFL Super Bowl deciders making the Astrodome an issue. While the Astrodome may be an offensive eyesore, it hasn't stopped more than 1,000 events from booking NRG Stadium, including:
Three Final Fours (2011, 2016, 2023), WrestleMania 25, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, One Direction, U2, Coldplay, MLS All-Star Game, two international Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions, Texas Bowl, plus next year's College Football Playoff National Championship Game, and FIFA World Cup in 2026.
Oh, and two Super Bowls (2004, 2017). So much for the NFL hating on the Astrodome in the past.
A lot of issues under one Dome
The Astrodome currently sits empty, a shell of its former shimmering structure. The gutted building doesn’t have an air conditioning or plumbing system. Most of the rainbow-colored seats are gone. Its only inhabitants reportedly are cats and rats, and back when, a few adventurous young explorers. Let’s call them trespassers.
It currently costs taxpayers somewhere in the range of $150,000 to $400,000 a year to cover the Astrodome’s utilities and insurance bills. It would cost taxpayers an estimated $30 million or more to bulldoze it.
The Astrodome is owned by Harris County and is operated by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation. Harris County Commissioners Court has final say what, if and when anything is done with the Dome.
And there’s the rub. County commissioners don’t seem to have the Astrodome on their front burner. In fact, the Astrodome isn’t even in the commissioners’ kitchen. The five-member court appears more interested in dealing with flooding issues, healthcare, and criminal justice reform. I agree those are more pressing problems.
History on its side...for now
Besides, it isn’t just Commissioners Court that would have to sign off on any Astrodome plan. The building, or what’s left of it, has been designated a Texas Historical Landmark and a Texas Antiquities Landmark. The Astrodome also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Try convincing the Texas Historical Commission, hey, let’s turn the Astrodome into an amusement park. We’ll put the bumper cars and spinning tea cups where George H.W. Bush accepted the Republican nomination for president.
Many of the previous proposals to renovate the Astrodome failed because sponsors were unable to find private financing. You may have heard that interest rates are up and money is tight. You also might remember that there was an election in 2013. Voters did not approve a referendum that would have authorized $217 million in bonds to convert the Dome into a convention and event complex.
Contrary to what many believe, the vote was not about keeping vs. demolishing the Dome. It was about spending public funds to renovate it. The Dome lost. So it sits.
Like every hard-hitting journalist, I wrote several columns about the bond proposal and Astrodome’s future during 2013. What cheesed me off, a book about the Astrodome’s iffy future was published later and the author listed me as a media member helping lead the charge to demolish the Dome.
That wasn’t true. My position then, and now, is something needs to be done with the Astrodome. I’m good with fixing it up. I’m fine with tearing it down. What is unacceptable, however, is leaving the Dome in its current decaying state. Something needs to be done.
But you know how things work around here.
What do you think should happen to the Dome? Let Ken know at email@example.com or on Twitter.