The Future of Houston
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Houston Biodome beckons

Could Science (and one billion dollars) save the Astrodome?

Could Science (and one billion dollars) save the Astrodome?

In a 20-minute presentation to an audience of media and tourism professionals organized by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Reliant Park general manager Mark Miller relayed his organizations' vision for the now sad-sack Astrodome, and how much it's likely to cost us.

A three-part proposed master plan contained three options for the iconic dome: Option one, it's torn down — a measure that Miller said 85 percent of the people he's spoken with oppose. Option two, the dome's event floor is brought to grade (ground level) and it's turned into a bare-boned but multipurpose facility. Option three envisions a full-blown "renaissance," complete with a conference center and a center for sustainability and alternative energy.

Both of the re-purposed options contain plans for an institute of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) — something of a surprise mission for Reliant Park. Miller spoke briefly about the United States' lag in the science race and the importance of encouraging student interest in math and science fields.

Also included in plans for an overall revamp of Reliant Park are a large festival plaza for outdoor events, 250,000 additional square feet of exhibition space in a retooled Reliant Arena and an on-site hotel with 800 to 1,500 rooms and an underground 800-car garage. The hotel (though it seems far-off) would have access off Fannin and, cleverly, have no on-site footprint, with its lobby level beginning at the roof of Reliant Center.

As for the cost, even tearing down our beloved Astrodome is a monumental feat — to the tune of $128 million, according to the plans presented. That plan, if built out with all the bells and whistles, including the hotel, would involve paving the surrounding ground to create an enormous festival plaza — one plan had a sort of reverse water fountain in the center over the Dome's 30-foot deep impression — and would total around $873 million. It's the cheapest of the proposals, but does little alleviate concerns about best-use. (Forty million of that $128 million figure is just paying off the existing $40 million debt on the building.)

Option two would cost around $1 billion for the proposed STEM institute, hotel, planetarium and other improvements, while option three, the most elaborate, would cost millions more. Miller said he would build the hotel with private-sector funding or not at all, and cap expectations for public funding at $324 million — the rough cost of revitalizing the dome into a usable event space.

Tell us, would you like to see the dome preserved? How much should Reliant spend to make it happen?