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The Euro-Dome

What can the Germans teach us about saving the Astrodome?

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

For years, Ed Emmett has been trying to figure out what to do with the Astrodome, one of the world’s grandest and wackiest-looking civic arenas. This week, he is on an expedition to see another of the world’s wacky wonders, a massive blimp hangar at a former Luftwaffe airfield in Germany that has been converted into the world’s largest indoor rainforest.

The Harris County judge and two aides have ventured seven times zones into the future to witness how the proprietors retooled their defunct steel barrel-bowl dome — one of the world’s largest freestanding structures — and transformed it into a climate-controlled tropical water park extraordinaire. Emmett made it plain that he planned to fund his “fact-finding” trip with campaign funds rather than taxpayer dollars. He also explained that the goal was not to copy the entire concept of the interior, but rather to debrief the engineer and horticulturist about the basics and talk to the folks who deal with upkeep of the dome’s exterior.

[…]

An outfit called CargoLifter AG built the domed structure, a dirigible hangar called the Aerium, in 2000. The oblong dome could fit the Statue of Liberty upright and Eiffel Tower tipped onto its side, though perhaps not both at the same time. CargoLifter embarked on “one of the most ambitious projects of German postwar aviation,” according to the German news site WallStreet-online. The idea was to use the hangar as a workshop to engineer a CL160 airship that could handle deliveries of oversized and heavy objects using “lighter than air technology.” The blimp building enterprise declared insolvency in 2002. Investors who had pumped $300 million Euros into the venture were likely deflated when CargoLifter sold the giant tin can to Tanjong, a Malaysian company, for a mere 20 percent of construction costs.

The Tanjong company debuted its Tropical Islands resort inside the Aerium in 2004. Its business model posited that if the resort could attract 1.25 million visitors per year, it could turn a profit. This happened for the first time in 2008, Wikipedia states, but only after Tanjong dropped the entrance fees substantially and added more cabins and huts for overnight guests. The annual reports online, Tropical Islands operated at a loss from 2006-2010, but the loss shrank by 67 percent. Emmett seems to think the place is viable.

See here in case you need to be reminded of the story so far. I’m sure this is a great facility and the entourage will come away with some nifty ideas, but unless they include how to get the damn thing approved by the voters and funded by somebody, I’m not sure how much difference it will make. But hey, good ideas are good ideas, so who knows.

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3 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I’m happy Ed and his entourage got a nice, taxpayer funded trip to Germany, but the underlying facts are still the same. There is no use for the building that would bring in enough money to pay for the extensive renovations it would need. Building 4 new stadiums ensured that the Astrodome was doomed to it’s current fate. Blame the promoters of NRG, Minute Maid, and the soccer stadium for the loss of history.

    Just tear it down already, and at least people will be able to park somewhere during the rodeo.

  2. Bill, the story says that the trip was paid with campaign funds, not public money. Just FYI.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    @Kuff:

    Yes, I see you are right. Shows what I get for skimming an article! I was wrong. He and his entourage had a nice vacation, courtesy of campaign contributors.