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Astrodome Planetarium

Once again mulling the fate of the Astrodome

Am I the only one who noticed the omission in this story about the current state of the Astrodome?

Debt and interest payments will amount to more than $2.4 million this year, according to a payment schedule for the higher debt estimate. The Astrodome’s manager estimates it also will cost $2 million for insurance, maintenance, utilities and security.

The debt likely would have to be reckoned with in any deal to redevelop the Astrodome, said Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, which the county created to run the Reliant Park complex.

But no deal to restore what once was known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” is likely to be affected by $32 million, Loston said.

“Practically anything that would be done with the building would be some multiple of that,” Loston said. “It’s not enough to make or break a development proposal.”

Not a word is mentioned about any specific redevelopment project. Nothing about the planetarium, the movie studio, or the convention center. Does that mean all these ideas are now officially dead, and that the most likely but still only spoken about in whispers outcome is this? You tell me.

That story was also about Commissioners Court finally getting around to the matter of the Dynamo Stadium deal. As expected, they approved it.

County Judge Ed Emmett emphasized that the Dynamo deal differs sharply from past stadium projects in which taxpayers picked up a much greater share of the tab.

“This is a team building its own stadium,” Emmett said.

Nor does the Dynamo deal cost any general fund money, Emmett and other county officials reaffirmed. Instead, a redevelopment zone will be created around the stadium so that future increases in tax receipts in the neighborhood will be funneled back into the project.

[…]

Much remains to be done before construction begins in October for a planned 2012 opening.

“This is, practically speaking, an agreement to agree,” said David Turkel, who as director of the county’s community services department is negotiating the deal with the city.

The Dynamo and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority must negotiate a lease for the soccer team’s use of the stadium. The city and county must also formally approve the creation of the redevelopment zones.

It’s still a significant step forward, and it ought to be a lot easier from here now that the basic framework is in place. Enjoy the moment, Dynamo fans, it’s been a long time in coming.

Yet another Astrodome plan

It’s a convention center, it’s a movie studio, it’s a planetarium.

Add a planetarium to the myriad ideas for what to do with the Reliant Astrodome, Houston’s iconic stadium whose future has hung in uncertainty as officials and entrepreneurs have proposed new uses ranging from a casino to a movie studio.

The latest idea, a study of which was proposed by Commissioner El Franco Lee, is to turn part of the 44-year-old Astrodome into a planetarium or a medical or science institute, leaving additional space for some other public use. Commissioners Court will vote Tuesday on whether to spend $50,000 for a feasibility study of the idea.

“The Astrodome is a world-recognizable space and we want to put it to the highest and best use,” Lee said Friday. “We have been on the cutting edge of several technologies from aerospace to medicine and we would be looking at an educational venue that highlights that.”

Well, there’s a certain poetry to the idea. I have no idea whether this is something that could become self-sufficient, but it’s probably worth spending the money to do the feasibility study. At least we might get a definitive answer one way or the other, unlike the other concepts, which have been in limbo for what feels like forever.

Judge Ed Emmett, who had been skeptical of plans to pay for the convention hotel, said he supports the planetarium idea because it focuses on public use. It also would leave space in the facility for other features, such as a gathering space for festivals or concerts.

“My main interest is to turn the Astrodome into something that can be used by the public,” Emmett said. “The question of funding is always going to be an issue, but basically cleaning up the dome and using it as an open space that you put other things into is very different than turning the whole thing into a hotel.”

County officials this summer will begin seriously to study the various ideas and eventually could take the question of what to do with the Astrodome to voters.

“We waited to see what happened in the legislative session and we will begin to talk about all this,” Emmett said. “At some point, if we come up with enough ideas that are public use, we might ask voters.”

I’m glad there’s momentum to get something official put forward. I’ll be very interested to see how a vote might go – it’s not clear to me that there’s that much more support for preservation than there is for demolition. The longer this goes on, the smaller the share of the population that actually has fond memories of the Dome in its glory. I wouldn’t count on nostalgia to give any future renovation proposal that much of a boost.