With the Final Four in town, we have visitors at Reliant Stadium looking over at its unused predecessor and wondering what’s going on with it. The short answer is, not much.
The state of the dome and prospects for its future weigh on the minds of those who scout the surrounding NRG Park for special events, according to Ryan Walsh, the CEO and executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, a governmental nonprofit that manages the complex on behalf of the county.
“It’s coming up in conversation more and more about, ‘What are you guys doing with that?'” Walsh said. “When people come and tour these facilities, for these large events, it’s, ‘What about that large building over there? What about the Astrodome?’ Unfortunately, it’s been the same answer we’ve had for, gosh, a decade or more now.”
That answer is nothing and no changes are imminent. The Astrodome was condemned by the City of Houston in 2009 and does not have a working HVAC system or plumbing, according to Walsh, and a series of ideas to refurbish and repurpose the building since that time have not come to fruition.
Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett led a $105 million proposal to convert the county-owned Astrodome into a multi-purpose event space with under-the-floor parking, which county commissioners approved in 2018, but the project fizzled out after Emmett lost an election to Lina Hidalgo later that year. There were concerns about the plan’s long-term cost and viability, according to Hidalgo and Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who voted in support of the proposal but said he always had reservations about it.
Ellis, who represents the part of Houston where the Astrodome is located, said there is no longer an interest in spending taxpayer money to refurbish it as construction costs have escalated and county leaders have more pressing priorities such as flood control, community healthcare needs and a backlog in their criminal justice system. Walsh said the county spends about $150,000 per year in utility and insurance costs for the Astrodome as a part of the larger NRG Park complex, and Ellis said any additional funding would need to come from the private or philanthropic sectors.
A plan to resurrect the Astrodome also would need the support of the NFL’s Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which are NRG Park’s primary tenants. Tearing down the mostly revered domed stadium – an idea for which many Houstonians have expressed support over the years – is off the table after the Astrodome received a state historical designation a few years ago that largely protects it from being demolished or significantly altered.
Walsh said his nonprofit is starting to have conversations about the future of NRG Park with the Texans and rodeo, which have leases at NRG Stadium through 2032, adding that the Astrodome will be part of those talks. Rodeo president and CEO Chris Boleman, who recently wrapped up the 2023 event, said he wants to see the Astrodome become a usable space and would support a plan that benefits the rodeo and its operations.
The Astrodome Conservancy, a private nonprofit which formed in 2016 at the urging of Emmett, is gradually working to solicit public input, conduct market research and vet outside proposals to get the building up and running again. Executive director Beth Wiedower Jackson said she fields multiple inquiries per month about the Astrodome.
She added that the conversancy, which has a fundraising run scheduled for April 15, has a “very lean budget” and is “very much in the process” of finding a viable solution. Ellis said it’s likely to be at least a couple more years before an idea could be galvanized and set in motion at the Astrodome, which is paid for and “structurally solid as a rock,” according to Jackson.
The conservancy conducted a public-input campaign in 2021, with Jackson saying an overwhelming majority of the 7,500-plus respondents wanted to see the Astrodome utilized in some capacity.
“There is very much the public will, and even the political will, to do something with this building,” she said. “But there is not a vision right now, today currently, for the public or the politicians to rally around or get behind. There is not even something to say, ‘No, that’s not it.’ We’re trying to come up with that vision.”
Indeed, the last updates I have relating to the Astrodome are from 2021, and before that a post from 2019 about what’s going on with the Dome. There’s never been a shortage of ideas of what to do with the Astrodome, it’s always been about how to pay for it. I think at this point it’s going to take the Conservancy to mostly finance whatever will be done, with only a modicum of public funds being used. How we get there and how long that might take, I have no idea. This has been your semi-regular look at What’s Going On With The Astrodome.