November 09, 2007
One hurdle cleared for Astrodome Redevelopment

Previously, we learned that the Harris County Attorney was researching whether or not Commissioners Court could approve the Astrodome Redevelopment plans over the objections of the Texans and the Rodeo. Now we have the answer to that question.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Houston Texans have no legal basis to block a plan to turn the Reliant Astrodome into an upscale convention hotel as long as their concerns about parking, access and food sales are addressed, Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford said Thursday.

"There is no insurmountable legal impediment to doing this deal," Stafford said.

The rodeo, however, signaled that it could sue to prevent Astrodome Redevelopment Corp. from forging ahead with its proposed $450 million, 1,300-room hotel.

"Our legal firm is telling us this proposal will violate our lease rights," said Leroy Shafer, the rodeo's chief operating officer. "And we will take every measure to protect those rights."

Commissioners Court will decide whether the Dome plan goes forward, with its next review of the plan scheduled for January. The court could give ARC's plan the go-ahead, or reject it and seek new proposals.

So if ARC meets the terms of the lease, then they can get approval from the Court even if the Texans and the Rodeo don't like it. Which is not to say that they would get that approval - I still don't see the Court going against the wishes of those two entities. My guess is that if ARC fulfills its obligations and they get the thumbs down anyway, they'll sue. So by whom would we rather be sued? That may be the question.

In its applications for financing, Astrodome Redevelopment Corp. told investment banks that as many as 750,000 of the 1.8 million spectators who attend the rodeo and carnival annually could come through the convention hotel complex, said John Clanton, the company's chief executive.

The proposed hotel complex would include seven restaurants and an amusement component. Entertainment attractions could include a ride that would take people near the top of the Dome, gondolas, tethered hot-air balloons and a batting cage, Clanton said.

A ride to the top of the Dome, eh? Too bad you won't be able to get a good view of the city from that vantage point. I'd ride that if that were the case.

A letter of intent signed by Astrodome Redevelopment and Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which oversees Reliant Park, requires the company to get the Texans and the rodeo to sign off on the convention hotel.

Stafford said the rodeo and Texans' contracts require the county to provide them with 22,000-25,000 parking spaces and adequate ways in and out of Reliant Park.

A convention hotel, he said, would not violate the Texans or the rodeo's parking and access rights.

Clanton said Astrodome Redevelopment negotiated with the Texans and the rodeo and agreed to meet the latter's demand for a percentage of food and merchandise sales during the three-week rodeo.

Clanton said Astrodome Redevelopment would be willing to close the convention hotel to rodeo attendees, defusing the rodeo's concerns it would siphon off its business.

Stafford said the hotel complex would not be violating the rodeo or the Texans' right to sell food exclusively on their operating days, if the hotel shut its doors to their attendees.

Sounds like the pieces may be in place for the Court to approve the project if they want to. And even though I think they won't if there's enough of a stink raised by the Texans and the Rodeo, there is another force at work here:

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he supports redeveloping the Dome, mostly unused since the Astros left after the 1999 season, especially after seeing wide support for such a plan among the public.

While speaking at a Bay Area Chamber of Commerce meeting this week, he asked how many people favored razing the Dome.

"Only four people out of 100 raised their hands, and there were people who audibly hissed them," Emmett said. "Then I asked, 'Who wants to save the Dome?' About everybody else raised their hands."

In a September poll of 400 county residents likely to vote in the March Republican primary, 67 percent said they favored the county's participating in a public-private partnership to redevelop the Dome.

Of those polled, 16 percent favored razing the Dome, while 17 percent were undecided.

It always comes down to the primary, doesn't it? Good luck sorting it all out, Ed. Swamplot has more, while City of Brass has an alternate suggestion in case the ARC plan gets shot down.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 09, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston