The Never-Ending Debate

Astrodome gets a new high-powered ally: Prominent writer pleads to save it

Astrodome gets a high-powered ally: Prominent writer pleads to save it

1, Astrodome, tour, March 2013
The Astrodome's sorry state was revealed during a recent media tour.  Photo by Doug Miller/KHOU Houston/Channel 11
Ryan Slattery rendering for Astrodome project steel skeleton park
A proposal from recent University of Houston architecture masters student Ryan Slattery calls for stripping the Astrodome to its steel skeleton.  Courtesy of Ryan Slattery
1, Astrodome, tour, March 2013
Ryan Slattery rendering for Astrodome project steel skeleton park

In the wake of Houston's successful Super Bowl bid, the issue of what to do with the Astrodome has taken on increased urgency. The clock is ticking toward LI in 2017 after all, and as content as public officials seem to defer the decision, the Astrodome can't just stand there in its current state forever. 

The most recent to weigh in on its historical value is New York Times sportswriter Jeré Longman, a south Louisiana native who fondly recalls childhood trips to the stadium in an essay entitled "Houston's Astrodome May Be Dirty and Dated, but It Is Irreplaceable."

"Demolition would be a failure of civic imagination, a betrayal of Houston's greatness as a city of swaggering ambition, of dreamers who dispensed with zoning laws and any restraint on possibility," Longman writes.

This echoes the sentiments of Houstorian founder James Glassman who, in a recent CultureMap column, noted that the stadium "is so much bigger than a monument to past sports glories." A passionate preservationist, Glassman tells Longman that the Astrodome is the "physical manifestation of Houston's soul."

But what should be done with the aging dome? Longman doesn't answer the long-debated question, but he does seem enthusiastic about University of Houston architecture student Ryan Slattery's thesis, which calls for stripping the dome to its steel skeleton and putting in a park. 

How feasible is that plan? Very, says Sean Murphy, an architect with Johnston LLC. He tells CultureMap that, in November, he and Glassman had come up with "practically the same idea" as Slattery. When the pair saw his thesis, they immediately brought him on board to help flesh out the idea.

"It's such a no-brainer option," Murphy says. The structure was "so thoughtfully designed" that concrete removal would be easy. Though it's too early for specific numbers, he hints that the pricing would be "favorable."

Plus, he argues the outdoor multi-purpose venue would present an immediate and significant revenue stream in what has been a "money suck" for years while adding a positive benefit to the community and for visitors, as well.

Since Johnston LLC is an existing consultant with Harris County, the group will bypass the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation's call for proposal submissions and present, instead, directly to the county commissioners.

Want more on the debate? Read the contrasting viewpoints of CultureMap network news director Chris Baldwin's column on the need to tear down the Astrodome and CultureMap contributor James Glassman's plea to save what he calls "Houston's Eiffel Tower" at all costs