Dynamo Stadium has been in the works for a long time, but depending on how things go this month, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.
[T]he Dynamo view this month as pivotal in their quest to go from a routine archeological dig to a bowl excavation and from renderings to the real thing -- all the while staying on schedule and on budget.
"May is a make-or-break month," [team president Oliver] Luck said. "In the sense that it is important we get into this building by 2011.
"To use a soccer analogy, we're in extra time now."
The Dynamo want to have the roughly $85 million, 22,000-seat stadium ready for opening day 2011. They envision an all-round two-level, all-seater venue with 34 suites, 86 concession point-of-sales, a 3,000 square-foot club level and a party deck on the southeast corner.
For it to be ready on schedule, work on the 16- to 18-month project would have to start no later than this fall.
For that to happen, Luck said, the team will need to complete its financing package agreement with the city and have the county, by way of Commissioners Court, vote in favor of contributing $10 million to the project (an amount similar to what the city would contribute) by joining the city's East Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which includes the site.
"No one wants to commit until all the financing is lined up," Luck said.
The Dynamo could check the city off their to-do list this month. The city and team ownership have concurred the parties are close on most points. Getting the county on board might take longer. Though discussions are ongoing, there has been no signal from the county commissioners suggesting the issue will be added to Commissioners Court agenda any time soon.
I realize there are about a billion higher priorities for the President and the Congress to be dealing with these days, but I still really enjoy watching these guys squirm.
At a hearing Friday before the House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, three members of Congress decried the manner in which college football decides its national champion and warned government action could be implemented should changes not be made voluntarily by the sport's administrators.
Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, who has introduced legislation that would prohibit the NCAA from advertising its national champion in football as such unless it was produced via a playoff system, levied the most pointed criticisms of his peers toward the Bowl Championship Series.
"It's interesting that people of good will keep trying to tinker with the current system, and to my mind it's a little bit like -- and I don't mean this directly -- but it's like communism," Barton said in his opening statement. "You can't fix it. It will not be fixable. Sooner or later, you're going to have to try a new model, and that's why we're here today."
Four high-ranking college football officials testified before the subcommittee. Proponents of the current BCS system predicted that renowned bowl games would become endangered if a playoff system was initiated.
"It will be very difficult for any bowl, including the current BCS bowls, which are among the oldest and most established in the game's history, to survive" because sponsorships and television revenue would go toward playoff games, BCS coordinator and ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. "Certainly the 29 games that are not part of the BCS would be in peril."
Perhaps the biggest highlight of Dikembe Mutombo's career came during the 1994 playoffs when he was lying on the floor holding a ball in the air in joy after leading the Denver Nuggets to a titanic playoff upset of top-seeded Seattle.
Mutombo found himself lying on the floor again Tuesday night, this time pondering the end of his career.
Mutombo, 42, was carried away on a stretcher in the first quarter of the Rockets' 107-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 with what he said was a career-ending left knee injury.
"It's over for me for my career," said Mutombo, who will be examined by team doctors when the Rockets return to Houston today.
An eight-time NBA All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Mutombo is one of the game's great humanitarians and had a distinguished 18-year career with Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Houston.
"It's not something that I planned," he said. "All I can say right now is I had a wonderful run of 18 years and stayed injury-free. I thank God a lot for all this blessing and putting such great people around me for all of my career in the NBA. I'm just happy.
"I have to go out with my head high and not be disappointed and have no regrets. I have so many things I can be so thankful for over my 18 years."
Has it really been over five years since the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) closed up shop? Time does fly. In any event, if you're a fan of women's soccer and have been waiting for another professional league to come along, your wait is over.
[T]he first Women's Professional Soccer season [launched] Sunday against the backdrop of a troubling recession that could yet be the precursor to another Great Depression.
With infinitely better timing, the WPS' predecessor, the Women's United Soccer Association, lasted barely three seasons before closing. And basketball's WNBA, the reference standard of the genre with its dozen years of history, has seemingly plateaued despite optimism about its future. The demise of the once-dynastic Comets last summer for lack of ownership sounded an ominous warning shot.
A crucial question remains to be answered, and quickly: Will viewers embrace the games on television, shown exclusively by Fox's soccer channel? And, most important for the long term, will the young women who aspire to play in the WPS congregate around TVs themselves to marvel at the skills of the brilliant Brazilian Marta -- just as adolescent boys do when Kobe and Lebron light up the flat screen?
Plenty of girls play soccer or basketball or both, many at an intensely competitive level, but far fewer are inclined to spectate. Therein lies a huge rub, no doubt a crucial reason why the female pros haven't secured a niche for themselves as must-see TV, arguably a foundation for assuring their leagues of true viability. Boys aspiring to become athletes are almost always fans first -- and remain so after they quit playing. Women? Far less of a given, to be sure.
"I struggle to get my players to watch soccer on TV, or even to attend (Dynamo) games at the same stadium where we play," admits [University of Houston women's soccer coach Susan] Bush. "I definitely encourage them to and want them to, but ... as little girls, it's just not something that we did."
Kristine Lilly, who will play for her hometown Boston Breakers in WPS and, at 38, is the most tenured national team player -- male or female -- in soccer history, calls the observation Bush makes a "double-edged sword.
"In the past, young girls haven't had many opportunities to watch women (compete in sports) on television," Lilly said. "Now they have options, and I really think it's going to change the culture. It's very important for young girls to see that they can play at a professional level, too."
Another step forward for Dynamo Stadium.
Dynamo ownership has all but secured all of the financing needed for the construction of an $80-million soccer stadium just east of downtown and plans to break ground on the project as early as this fall.
"We have some I's to dot and t's to cross, but things are looking very favorable," Dynamo president Oliver Luck said Tuesday. "It's not a done deal, but the principal points have been agreed upon."
Dynamo co-owners Anschutz Entertainment Group, Brener International and boxer/promoter Oscar De La Hoya have secured financing totalling about $20 million on behalf of the City of Houston and Harris County through Spanish bank BBVA/Compass.
The development clears the way for city council and commissioner's court to put the stadium item on their respective agendas.
Both government entities have committed tax increment reinvestment zone revenue streams to the project provided the Dynamo could find a bank to provide financing up front, Luck said.
"We spent about three months talking to banks," Luck said. "Given the economic climate, finding a bank was a challenge, so we are appreciative of BBVA/Compass."
Dynamo ownership has pledged $55-60 million in private funding for the proposed 20,000 capacity facility stadium to be located near the intersection of Texas and Dowling, just east of downtown and U.S. 59.
[The Stadium] will seat 21,000 fans and will have around 35 suites.
The Dynamo say they hope to keep the average ticket price under $20.
Construction will begin in the fall and is expected to take about 18 months.
There are still hurdles to overcome - the money isn't in hand yet, and the whole thing still needs Council approval and the TIRZ funding from Commissioners Court - but those pieces will likely fall into place. Of course, I thought things would be settled a year ago, so don't go counting any chickens just yet.
UPDATE: Today's version of this story indicates that Commissioners Court is still an obstacle.
Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 would house most of the stadium, said no agreement is in place.
"There is nothing that I'm about to put on the agenda at all," Lee said. "There's nothing happening on that."
Most of the stadium -- to be located near the corner of Texas and Dowling, just east of downtown and U.S. 59 -- falls in Lee's precinct, while a smaller portion is in [Commissioner Sylvia] Garcia's precinct.
Mark Seegers, a spokesman for Garcia, said a number of issues remain to be resolved, particularly involving the availability of affordable tickets for low-income families.
"Nothing is imminent in terms of this item appearing before Commissioners Court," Seegers said.
This would be very cool.
As they prepare to host CONCACAF Gold Cup matches at Reliant Stadium for a third consecutive tournament edition July 9, the folks at Lone Star Sports and Entertainment are busy thinking big -- really big.
"We want to bring the World Cup to Houston," Chris Keeney, LSSE's general manager, said Friday.
You read right. The World Cup. The biggest, most watched sporting event on the planet.
The United States Soccer Federation has expressed its desire to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
An official declaration of interest has been submitted to FIFA, the sport's governing body, and U.S. Soccer has until May 2010 to submit all paperwork related to its bid.
FIFA plans to award the tournaments by December of that year.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is optimistic about the United States' chances.
"We are confident we can put together a successful bid to host another impressive event," he said last month, making reference to the 1994 World Cup, which the United States hosted to unprecedented success.
Keeney believes Houston and Reliant Stadium have a strong case to be one of 10-12 host cities, should the U.S. bid prove successful.
Are you looking for a bicycle race, but without all those tedious mountains and drug tests? Well then, the Tour de Houston is what you're looking for.
The 2009 ride date will be Sunday March 22, beginning and ending downtown at McKinney @ Crawford, in Discovery Green, across from the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Route distances will be approximately 20, 40, and 70 miles.
Pre-Registration: $25 for adults and $15 for youth 12 years and under. Pre-Registration ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, March 19, 2009. Registrants will pay $35 on the day of the event.
Funds raised will benefit the Houston Parks and Recreation Department through the Houston Parks Board.
It's always heartwarming to see the Lege pay attention to the really important stuff. Take a look at HCR35, for the purpose of "Urging the institution of a playoff system to decide the NCAA football national championship in place of the current Bowl Championship Series." According to the text of the resolution - note that this is not a bill, it's a resolution, for things like proclamations and honoring people and whatnot - once you get past all of the "whereas"es:
RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas hereby respectfully urge the presidents of the public universities in Texas and the Big 12 Conference commissioner to work to promote the institution of a playoff system to decide the national championship in college football in place of the current Bowl Championship Series; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the Texas secretary of state forward official copies of this resolution to the presidents of the public universities in Texas and to the Big 12 commissioner.
And just in time for rodeo season.
Reliant Stadium's retractable roof has lost its gap-tooth look and should be as good as new in plenty of time for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which runs March 3-22.
The five giant panels that were torn asunder by the fury of Hurricane Ike -- or debris flung through the air by the storm -- in the wee hours of Sept. 13 have been replaced and the process of tightening, stretching and waterproofing the new pieces is well under way with completion expected by mid-February.
The repairs, to be paid for by Harris County's insurance policy on the stadium and FEMA funds, are going to cost approximately $4 million. Investigators for Birdair and the insurance adjusters are just now beginning to study the damaged panels to determine why they came down, but there's some evidence to suggest they were struck with airborne projectiles pried loose from nearby structures.
Somewhat ironically, that story appeared on the same day as this one.
Donations to speed the Gulf Coast's recovery from Hurricane Ike have slowed dramatically, and two of the three major funds say they are ending their efforts to raise money.
"If someone comes in, we're happy to talk to them but we're not in an active fundraising mode," said Ann Neeson, vice president of donor relations at the United Way of Greater Houston, which raised $5.8 million for hurricane recovery.
Ditto for the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund. It has raised $11.8 million, and administrators expect to have all the money distributed by late next month.
The need, however, remains.
"Twelve million dollars is a lot of money until you start giving it out based on the needs," said Albert Myres, a Reliant Energy executive who is administering the Ike Relief Fund. "Could we have used $50 million? Probably. Easily."
Those on the front lines agree.
"I get calls, and people are crying," said Julie Reid of the Lutheran Inter-City Network Coalition-Houston. "They're ready to give up because Houston has basically moved on."
Houston Mayor Bill White asked the county in July to contribute $10 million to the project by joining the city's East Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which includes the stadium's proposed site.
Harris County Commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia tentatively agreed late last month to join the project as long as the city agreed to conditions including restricting the use of county money to building the public amenities and infrastructure serving the stadium, rather than the physical structure itself. That could include water and sewer lines for the stadium, or the parking lots and tree-lined plazas surrounding it.
Other conditions include guarantees that Texas Southern University will be allowed to play home games at the stadium and that 15 percent of the seats never will be sold for more than the average price of a movie ticket. The county also wants Dynamo to be held responsible for all facility upkeep and proposes the team fund such repairs through a monthly fee in addition to the lease.
Dynamo president and general manager Oliver Luck said the team is amenable to working with the county on the conditions that involve its operations.
White spokesman Frank Michel said the city is reasonably optimistic it will be able to reach an agreement with the county.
"I think we're pretty close on almost every point they have, and, certainly, we're not in radical disagreement, but there's just things to work through," Michel said.
Among the details being discussed are ways to define affordable tickets and to ensure the facility is properly maintained, said Andy Icken, Houston's deputy director for planning and development in the Department of Public Works and Engineering.
Icken said negotiations are going well enough that he believes the Harris County Commissioners Court could vote on the proposal at its Jan. 27 or Feb. 10 meeting.
The Harris County Republican Party announced Friday that it opposed public funding for the Dynamo stadium, calling the project a "$20 million corporate welfare program."
Republican County Judge Ed Emmett said he would vote "no" if the Dynamo asked for a $10 million donation from the county's general fund. But he said the TIRZ proposal is more complicated than that as it involves tax money the county would not otherwise receive and because the money may be used for infrastructure updates that would be needed anyway if the stadium were built.
"We'll have to wait and see what finally comes out of all the negotiations that are going on," Emmett said.
Commissioners Court protocol dictates that formal proposals to participate in such projects must come from the commissioner whose precinct would be affected. The lion's share of the site is in Lee's precinct, while a smaller portion is in Garcia's.
As long as those two commissioners want to participate in the TIRZ, the court is likely to sign off on the proposal.
The power each commissioner exercises over these budgets is as absolute as it can get in a democracy. That's because each commissioner respects the turf of the others and expects his or her turf to be respected in return.
"El Franco Lee knows his precinct better than I do," [Commissioner Steve] Radack said. "If he has the money and wants to do something, I'm not going to second-guess him."
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