Not With Our Taxes

The real hidden tragedy of the Astrodome: Taxpayers pay big for failures of icon's caretakers

The real hidden tragedy of the Astrodome: Taxpayers pay big for failures of icon's caretakers

News_Astrodome_first year_promo
Who would have imagined that the Astrodome's wonder-filled start would lead to this?
News_Astrodome_first year_promo

Houstonians are being rooked. Their attention is being diverted from the colossal waste of their taxpayer money, the real issue, to talk of what our Astrodome could become  — even if flattened.

Recently Houston media representatives were led on a tour of the Astrodome’s interior which has been closed since 2008 when, overnight, it became unsafe. This photo op resulted, as fully intended, in videos and images of the woe-begotten facility. Preservationists were dutifully saddened and empathetic, while pragmatists saw all the proof they needed to blow this baby up.

It was enough to make us want to do something — anything — to make this situation go away. But there’s the rub.

 Would members of the Sports and Convention Corporation & County Commissioners neglect their own property like this? 

While everyone is focused on how awful it looks, nobody seems willing to dig into this mess and find out how a small group of people in charge of millions of our tax dollars let this happen and hold them accountable. And to prevent them from doing it again.

By my estimation, the absolute minimum the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation (stewards of the building) and the Harris County Commissioners to whom they report, have approved spending on the Astrodome is more than $19,420,210 million* — only to have the former Eighth Wonder of the World end up in the sorry state it is today. The fact that they have done nothing to keep the building from falling apart inside is reprehensible.

The average property owner’s taxes here are $2,761 annually. Would you give me another two grand if I had thrown away the first two? And never even owned up to it?

A year ago, in the first CultureMap article I wrote about the Astrodome dilemma, I made clear that I had formerly worked on a movie studio project being proposed for the Dome. That affiliation ended around three years ago, but it gave me a better than average understanding of how county government works, as well as of the physical Astrodome itself; I toured it with a noted structural engineer.

Instead of worrying about “what to do with the Dome,” Houstonians should be demanding a solution to improve its current condition, to protect their investment. Every property owner knows that maintenance is far less expensive than waiting until a wall caves in.

Would members of the Sports and Convention Corporation and County Commissioners neglect their own property like this?

Around $30 million is still owed in debt on the building. How much interest are we still forking over on that?

No matter what the upcoming study will suggest, there is no money to implement any recommendation, even demolition. The caretakers should get this house in order first, taking care of debt and making repairs to prevent further deterioration.

That is, after all, their responsibility.

*$18,800,000 million to buy out the remainder of the Astros' lease; $517,000 for repairs so the Rodeo could use the Astrodome one last time; $3,200 for inspections and a temporary certificate of occupancy for the Rodeo's last ride; $50,000 for a workshop to study what to do with the Astrodome; $50,000 more for the Sports and Convention Corporations' share of a $500,000 study that was due in December; $30 million (plus or minus a few million) of debt still owed.

Grand total $49,420,210 — and that's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg and we still have a deteriorated building that is a horrible PR image for our grand city.

See Channel 11's recent look inside the Astrodome: