January 23, 2008
Ask about the Dome hotel, and ye shall receive an update

I had wondered where we stood with the Astrodome convention center/hotel deal. Now we know.

The Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. expects to work out a proposed lease within two weeks with the company that wants to turn the Reliant Astrodome into a convention hotel, County Attorney Mike Stafford says.

But the sports corporation's deadline for striking a deal with Astrodome Redevelopment Co. is six days away. The corporation could extend the deadline by 90 days so the lease can be worked out and the county could complete its financial analysis of the deal, Stafford said in a recent letter to Commissioners Court.

County Judge Ed Emmett and Commissioner Steve Radack oppose extending the deadline.

"There are still irresolvable issues. The financing was supposed to be in place," Emmett said. "At some point, you say enough. Either you have definite financing or you don't."

Emmett and other members of Commissioners Court have said they understand that the majority of county residents feel attached to the Astrodome -- the world's first domed stadium, dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it opened in 1965 -- and would like to find a second life for the facility.

Radack has questioned whether reinventing the Dome as a 1,200-room upscale hotel is financially viable. He also has said he does not want the county forced into the hotel management business if Astrodome Redevelopment's $450 million investment falls through and it defaults on a loan.

Stafford said it would be appropriate to grant an extension because the county's management services department needs more time to analyze the deal.

The decision on whether to grant an extension rests with the sports corporation, which is scheduled to meet today.

"We probably would be inclined to take the advice of the county attorney, but it would be inappropriate to discuss the issue in detail," sports corporation vice chairman Charles "Sonny" Sowell said.

Astrodome Redevelopment chief executive John Clanton said his company should not be blamed for failing to meet the Jan. 29 deadline because the county requires more time.

"It's not Astrodome Redevelopment that's working on the next milestone, and it is realistic to give the county however much time they want to be confident in this," he said.

I don't quite understand Emmett's rationale for opposing an extension. It appears that Astrodome Redevelopment has its deal for financing in place, but it's Harris County that hasn't finished its due diligence yet. If that's the case, then what's the harm in letting them complete that task?

Be that as it may, my assumption is that this whole thing falls apart if the county and Astrodome Redevelopment fail to come to an agreement, which would be the outcome in the event the deadline doesn't get extended. So does that mean Emmett's opposition to the extension is a sign that he's given up on the whole Dome hotel concept, and wants to either try something else or start making the case for demolition? That's not clear to me, but if he's going to take a hard stance on the deadline, then he's pretty much forcing the issue. So if not this, then what? We'll see what happens.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 23, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston