February 22, 2009
Pity the poor Astrodome

These sure are bad days for the old icon, aren't they?

The Astrodome will not host the rodeo's nightly country-western dances next month, or any other special event for that matter, as city code violations that would cost millions to remedy threaten to keep the doors shut indefinitely.

It would cost Harris County $3 million just to make enough repairs to host rodeo-related events on the playing field of the iconic stadium, said Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. Tackling the entire list of violations the city identified last year would cost several times that amount.


The trouble began about a year ago, when dome officials could not produce a valid certificate of occupancy during their annual fire inspection, senior fire inspector Joe Leggio said. The county ultimately had to apply for a new certificate, which triggered an inspection by city building code officials.

That inspection and a follow-up inspection by the city fire marshal's office identified about 30 problems, including malfunctioning sprinkler and fire alarm systems. Those violations are considered life threatening, so the fire marshal could have ordered the building shut down. Instead, the county voluntarily relocated the three dozen employees of the management company that runs Reliant Park who had offices there and agreed not to host any public events.

The sprinkler system has since been fixed, and the county has a contract to replace the problematic fire alarm panel, said Loston, whose group manages the Reliant Park complex for the county.


Susan McMillian, an executive staff analyst in the City of Houston's Department of Public Works & Engineering, said standards are based on what the building is designed to be used for, not how it currently is being used. However, most of the inspection would be based on codes in place when the stadium was built in 1965.

It is not clear why the sports and convention corporation could not produce a certificate of occupancy despite operating with no problems for decades. County Judge Ed Emmett asked the County Attorney's Office on Friday to look into the fire marshal's authority to inspect the dome and what codes the stadium should be expected to follow.

Leggio said the city has always inspected the Astrodome and has always used the proper codes.

I would assume the fire marshal has - or at least, should have - the authority to inspect the facility because if a fire broke out there, it would be the Houston Fire Department that'd fight it. I don't know what things are like at the Dome now, but I can say that when I saw Lyle Lovett and Bob Dylan perform there a few years ago during the Rodeo, it was depressing how rundown it looked and felt. One way or another, this situation needs some kind of closure.

The dome's future has been uncertain since Reliant Stadium opened next door in 2002. Many residents oppose razing a structure long billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," but a proposal to convert it into a luxury hotel has faltered amid financial snags.

What, no love for the movie studio concept? Maybe that's the more realistic scenario these days.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 22, 2009 to Elsewhere in Houston


I will stop reading your blog cause some of the topics you write about get me going. :)

The Astrodome was the first stadium in the world to be air conditioned, one of them seven wonders people talk about. In the entire world there isn't another one.

As usual with folks who don't care about history, the Astrodome is being let go to a point of no return so it can be demolished. The classical argument of "too expensive to fix."

Harris County is about to give $10 million to build a new soccer stadium. That is to complement $15.5 million that the city has already invested in purchasing the property and I hear the city will give another $10 million towards the Dynamo cause. That is a total of $35.5 million.

Forget that the Dynamo has been playing at UH. I been to the games. As a soccer fan it is a great venue. But not it needs another stadium.

The point I want to make is that, our public agencies should use that money to take out the roof of the Astrodome and turn it into a soccer stadium? The venue is already there. It has historic character and HOUSTON tradition. It already has parking capacity.

On the other hand what is the city and county doing?

1. Took out of the tax roles $15.5 million of property values. That is tax dollars taken away from: the city, county, HISD, and the East End Management District.

2. Generating a traffic generator that will bring more traffic to the east end plus the stadium will reduce street access.

All with the expectation that is good for somebody. I cannot imagine having a stadium in any neighborhood is good for their quality of life but...

Just sad that in general Houston has little appreciation for its history and uniqueness.

The city and county could be using those funds to create/build more parks, parks that could be designed for multi purpose such as storm water management, flood control, and recreation.

Instead of building parks that enhance the quality of life of Harris County residents the funds are being used to build another venue downtown away from where most people live.

But what do I know :) just my opinion.

Posted by: Gonzalo Camacho on February 22, 2009 8:48 AM

The reality is someone will make a lot of money off the new stadium. An insider. And so far there is no insider who views the Astrodome as a venue to make a lot of money off of. So the money it would take to renovate the Astrodome will be spent on the new Dynamo stadium.

And this is the second time in a week the city has pulled a "dirty trick" to ensure part of our history is not preserved. The Astrodome obviously will go the way of Wilshire Village. But also the way Park Memorial did. It isn't just our historical structures but anything a developer wants but cannot obtain without a "dirty trick."

The buck doesn't stop at the mayor's desk. It starts at the mayor's desk.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on February 22, 2009 11:09 AM

Although the Astrodome isn't yet 50 years old and thus isn't typically eligible for designation as a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark, I would think that those who want to save and rehab the structure would be wise to try to snag that designation for it. After all, the 'Dome is an architectural marvel, and is already an icon of a particular period and type of construction. Even though it isn't really old enough, I'm not sure that, say, an application to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places would be met unwarmly because of the danger the building is in and because it will eventually be a valuable architectural landmark. If they need three million bucks, an historical designation would go a long way toward shaking some grant money loose to at least help with some of that.

Posted by: Vince Leibowitz on February 22, 2009 11:30 AM

The City has "pulled a dirty trick"? By enforcing long standing ordinances designed to safeguard the public?

And I doubt that Bill White even knew the city inspectors had visited the Dome, so I'm not quite sure how the buck starts at his desk.

No conspiracy here, Baby Snooks. Just public employees doing the jobs for which they were hired. And I, for one, am glad they are.

Posted by: Dennis on February 22, 2009 5:39 PM
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