November 19, 2007
Chron advocates saving the Dome

On Sunday, the Chron editorialized in favor of keeping the Astrodome.

The county spends $1.5 million a year simply to maintain the Astrodome in its largely unused state. That is an untenable situation that cannot extend indefinitely.

County commissioners are eager to turn the Astrodome into a steady income producer. Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and El Franco Lee have called on the parties to sit down and negotiate their differences. "I would rather see the Texans and the rodeo make a good faith effort toward what works and creating a revenue generator at the Dome," Lee said. "That's the way to go, rather than for the Texans and the rodeo to make the presumption that it won't work and stonewall."

Astrodome Redevelopment officials indicate they are willing to work out an agreement to compensate the rodeo and the football team for a share of revenues lost on game days and during the rodeo season. That should be a starting point from which to negotiate other issues. Both the Texans and the rodeo have been essential elements in the successful development at Reliant Park. Their concerns must be fairly addressed in a transparent process that respects their legal rights.

At the same time, those organizations must realize that they are tenants at a publicly owned complex, and county officials will have the final say on what happens to the Astrodome. If the county commissioners decide to proceed with the hotel proposal, the Texans and the rodeo should make every effort to reach a satisfactory settlement of their differences.

The last thing citizens want is a legal fight pitting the county against a charitable organization and a pro football team, with the future of the Astrodome hanging in the balance.

I confess to having some complex feelings about this. On the one hand, I favor preservation, and I'd be as sad as anyone to see as iconic a structure as the Astrodome get torn down. I'd like to see someone rehabilitate the place. I have no idea how likely to succeed this hotel/convention center thing is - there's plenty of evidence to suggest it's a boondoggle, but hey, at least it'll be private investor money. As long as the county doesn't get put on a bigger hook than what it's on now for Dome maintenance, I don't see the harm in letting the Astrodome Redevelopment folks have a shot at it. Surely the Texans and the Rodeo can come to some agreement with them that protects their interests.

On the other hand, this all feels like delaying the inevitable. I also have to wonder just what exactly it is we're trying to preserve here. The Astrodome as we know it is already gone because it's not being used for its original purpose, and it's not going to be used for that purpose ever again. Does the structure have inherent value in the way that the Alabama Bookstop and the River Oaks Theater do? Maybe, but that never seems to be the argument anyone makes - it's all about what used to happen at the Dome, and the memories that were created. It would be one thing if we were talking about turning the site into a museum, but we're not. I don't quite see how any of those memories will translate to the redeveloped Dome, other than it still being shaped like the Dome from the outside. If we accept the argument that a hotel/convention center on that site makes sense, then is renovating the Dome the best way to do that? What does recycling the building get for us?

I don't know. The basic argument for preservation boils down to "they don't make 'em like that any more", and that's as true for the Dome as it is for the Alabama/River Oaks Theaters. I don't quite feel the same way about the Dome, though, and I'm trying to figure out why that is. What am I missing?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 19, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

you are missing the fact that the Chronic played a role in promoting the construction of more stadiums than our community obviously needs. What a way to run a paper.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on November 20, 2007 2:00 AM

Because you didn't grow up here. I'm guessing your dad never took you to see a game when you were still young enough to be wearing your Little League ball glove on one hand, sitting in center field, hoping for a home run ball to land in it.

I'm pretty sure you missed Big E vs. Lew Alcindor, or Muhammad Ali, or Elvis, or the Texas Jam.

I take it you didn't make it out to many of the Oilers playoff games, like the one in '92 (or '93) when they had the best record in the league but still fell in the first round to Joe Montana's Kansas City Chiefs.

I'm thinking you never sat behind a young man who strictly instructed his girlfriend to write "McNair" on his bare back "with a little 'c'!"

I'm going to bet you never sat in Lefty's and watched the drunks heckle Dante Bichette, yelling "Your mother named you Alphonse?"

See, you missed a few things while you were growing up in New Yawk, Chuck.

Posted by: PDiddie on November 20, 2007 8:25 AM

I think I'd be sad to see the Dome torn down because, when he was one of about 200 "underprivileged" kids in Lubbock, my husband went to see the Astros play in the Dome on a trip sponsored by the Boys' Club. He doesn't remember much about the game (hey, it was the 'stros in the '60s, and he's not a sports nut anyway -- it was all about the camping and museum side trip for him), but he vividly remembers sleeping on the floor of the dome on an air mattress. So it's a childhood icon in our family.
I've been to Houston twice and actually seen the Dome once (got there too late to go to Astroworld, sadly, in 2005).

Houston built the 'Dome during the (first) construction push around NASA. If you think that has any historical significance, then that's a reason to save the dome.

If not, then not; after all, it was 'old' when Texas Stadium opened in 1979, and now that's a derelict, according to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. (Speaking of derelict -- what about the Cotton Bowl?) Never mind that kids dream of playoff games on that magical field in Irving; never mind that it's a landmark, and that the original mortgage has only been paid off a few years.

Same thing with the Dome, I guess. Not the hot new 8th wonder of the world anymore? OK, tear it down and move on.

Posted by: The_Other_Sarah on November 20, 2007 10:05 AM

Perry, I get all that, but what I don't get is how the conversion of the Dome to a hotel/convention center helps preserves those memories. Is it just the sight of the place? I can't imagine you'll use it in its to-be-reconfigured form. At least folks who remember the old Alabama Theater can walk around inside the place and say "that's where the screen was, that's where my date and I made out during the premier of 'Rebel Without A Cause'", etc etc etc. Will you still feel that way about the Dome when it's a hotel? That's what I'm asking.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 20, 2007 10:42 AM