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Astroworld

The injury totals from AstroWorld

A lot of people were seriously hurt at that event.

More than 700 people were seriously injured during November’s Astroworld Festival tragedy, according to new court documents filed in Harris County this week.

Plaintiffs attorneys Jason Atkin, Richard Mithoff and Sean Roberts notified 11th Judicial District Judge Judge Kristen Brauchle Hawkins that they’d conducted a survey of people affected by the lethal Astroworld tragedy, which claimed the lives of 10 concertgoers late last year, including a 9-year-old boy and 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

According to the attorneys’ survey, some 732 people filed claims tied to injuries requiring significant medical treatment. An additional 1,649 claims were tied to injuries that required less extensive treatment, and they were also reviewing 2,540 claims for injuries where the severity was not fully ascertained.

The filing provides the latest and most complete picture, so far, of the toll of the Astroworld Festival, a local music festival which drew tens of thousands of visitors to Houston from across the region and the rest of the country.

[…]

The defendants in the lawsuit, Live Nation Worldwide, Scoremore Mgmt, ASM Global, Travis Scott, and others, generally deny the allegations, court records show.

One of the companies, Contemporary Services Corporation, has come under additional criticism, after a man successfully jumped onstage during a comedy show in Los Angeles last week and attacked Dave Chappelle.

Scott — who pleaded guilty to reckless conduct after urging fans to rush the stage during a 2015 show in Chicago and to a charge of disorderly conduct for similar behavior during a 2017 show in Arkansas — has consistently denied wrongdoing and asked to be removed from the lawsuits.

See here for the most recent update. The deaths of the ten concertgoers have been the headline of this story, but the sheer number of people that were badly injured would be grounds enough for the litigation that has followed. We can and should have investigations and task forces to look into what happened and why, but the discovery process is going to tell us a whole lot about this tragedy that we otherwise would not have known.

State task force recommendations on AstroWorld

Interesting.

To avoid a repeat of the mayhem at last year’s deadly Astroworld Festival, Texas needs to standardize its event permitting process, establish “clearly outlined triggers” for stopping shows and ensure local public safety agencies are organized in a clear chain of command during large events, a state task force recommended Tuesday.

The event permitting process currently is “inconsistent across the state, which can lead to forum shopping by event promoters,” according to the task force that recommended a universal permitting template with a standardized checklist for counties to consult before issuing permits.

The group, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott after 10 people died from injuries sustained during rapper Travis Scott’s show last November, also advised event promoters to develop “unique contingency plans” for venues including NRG Park — formed by a series of parking lots — that fans can easily stampede. The venue perimeter was breached at least eight times leading up to Scott’s 2021 performance.

Presenting its findings in a nine-page report, the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety said its recommendations are “narrowly tailored to address gaps that were identified as contributing to safety failures at the Astroworld event.” Members of the task force who met over the last five months included law enforcement officials, public safety experts, state agency employees and music industry representatives.

“While some level of risk is inherent in any mass gathering, it is the opinion of the [task force] that proper planning will allow Texans to enjoy safe performances, concerts, and other culturally significant events,” the report reads.

More uniform permitting regulations would also help mitigate confusion that can arise at venues located under the jurisdiction of multiple government entities and public safety agencies, the report found.

The Astroworld Festival took place on Harris County property but lies within the city limits. The city approved all permits for the event, and the city fire marshal — who is responsible for inspecting the NRG Park facility under an agreement inked between the city and county in 2018 — signed off on the site plan.

Still, the task force found “there was no occupancy load issued for the event, which is typically determined by the Fire Department.”

“A consistent permitting process could have helped establish jurisdiction and authority over ultimate event shutdown in the face of a life-threatening incident,” the report reads.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said there was no occupancy permit for the Astroworld Festival because such permits do not exist for outdoor areas. The event organizers did secure permits required under the city fire code for pyrotechnics, tents and propane. The city released those and other permits in November.

“The event was a county-sanctioned event on county property,” Peña said Tuesday night, adding that he had not yet fully reviewed the task force’s report.

The task force report is here. It’s pretty straightforward, I don’t see anything unexpected or eye-catching about it. I must have missed the announcement of this particular task force, I don’t have a previous post about it. Whatever, this is fine.

That doesn’t mean that it is without some controversy.

Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie L. Christensen on Wednesday rejected findings issued by a state task force which laid some of the blame for the Astroworld tragedy on the county’s handing of the incident.

[…]

The task force recommended a universal permitting template with a standardized checklist for counties to consult before issuing permits.

But the findings again raise one of the central issues related to the Astroworld tragedy: Ever since it occurred, city and county officials have sought to avoid blame for the fiasco by pointing fingers at each other.

The task force pointed to two laws that have permitting requirements — one related to mass gatherings, and one related to outdoor music festivals. Both refer to county events, because incorporated municipalities can create their own ordinances.

The situation is complicated by the fact the Astroworld Festival took place on Harris County property but lies within Houston city limits. The city approved all permits for the event, and the city fire marshal — who is responsible for inspecting the NRG Park facility under an agreement inked between the city and county in 2018 — signed off on the site plan.

Echoing other county officials who spoke to the Chronicle, Christensen said she had reviewed the task force’s findings, but that the task force cited statutes that “simply do not apply” to the Astroworld event. The laws, she said, apply “only to performances outside the boundaries of a municipality.”

“The fact the Astroworld event occurred within the City of Houston along with the (memorandum of understanding) between Harris County and the City of Houston clearly shows Harris County lacked any jurisdiction for permitting the Astroworld event,” she said. “Our office will continue reviewing the recommendations over the next several weeks.”

City officials, including Fire Chief Sam Peña, have argued that the event was “a county-sanctioned event on county property.”

I’m not particularly interesting in a pissing contest between the city and the county, but it is fair to point out that the laws cited by the report didn’t apply here because of the county-property-within-city-limits aspect of NRG Stadium. That doesn’t mean we should just shrug our shoulders and move on, but if it is more complicated than the report suggests, then we need to wrestle with the complexity. This is the point at which I’m officially out of my depth, so let me just say that we’re not off the hook and we shouldn’t act like it.

I should note further that there is a local task force working on its own report, and that first story gave us an update on it.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, another task force – this one selected by city and county officials – continued to meet to review communication, protocols and permitting requirements locally. City officials had more to say about that task force’s work than the one in Austin. Mary Benton, spokeswoman for Mayor Sylvester Turner, said the mayor has not yet reviewed the state task force’s report but would do so soon. She said the local group continues to meet and will write its own report for Turner and Precinct 2 Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“The task force will incorporate nationally agreed principles and draw from national and international strategies, policies, guidelines, standards, and doctrine,” Benton said. “The work is multidisciplinary and will cover issues presented by crowded places and mass gatherings in general. The task force has already begun this work, met earlier today and has meetings planned in the future.”

County Fire Marshal Christianson is among the local task force members. I look forward to reading that report as well. And now that the state has done the local task force the favor of publishing first, we here can respond to it as needed. Just get moving and get it done.

AstroWorld lawsuits get underway

This is going to be fascinating, heartbreaking, infuriating, and a lot more.

Lawyers packed a Harris County civil courtroom Tuesday morning as the judge overseeing litigation stemming from the deadly Astroworld Festival concert outlined the first steps to organize the hundreds of cases since they were consolidated late last year.

The appearance marked the first time lawyers for some of the plaintiffs and defendants had set foot in a courtroom since the Nov. 5 tragedy, when nearly a dozen concert-goers — including children — died from compression asphyxia as a crowd surge pushed people together at the NRG Park festival.

“Our first cattle call,” is how Houston personal injury lawyer Brent Coon described the hearing — an attempt to organize the more than 300 lawsuits tied to the deadly show. Some lawyers were ushered into an overflow room. The plaintiffs include victim families, survivors and employees.

The Board of Judges of the Civil Trial Division of the Harris County District Courts decided in December to consolidate the suits into one filing, with 11th District Court Judge Kristen Hawkins tapped to oversee the proceedings. The civil judge in February issued a gag order preventing the parties involved from discussing the case outside of what happens in open court and relevant motions. She said the case “should be tried in the courtroom and not social media.”

[…]

The meeting identified lawyer Jason Itkin to speak for the plaintiffs in the mass of lawsuits, and Neal Manne for the defendants — which include Live Nation, rapper and headliner Travis Scott and others.

More than two dozen defendants have yet to respond to the litigation, Coon said, adding that the next gathering in four weeks will be crowded with more lawyers.

As noted in the story, there were a lot of lawsuits filed, with a lot of plaintiffs and some eye-popping numbers. It’s going to take awhile for all this to even get to pretrial motions, let alone the actual trial. Tune in at the end of March for the next likely update.

Here comes that AstroWorld task force

Got to admit, I had thought this had already happened.

Three months after 10 people were killed at the Astroworld Festival at NRG Park, Houston and Harris County have named a 10-person task force to review procedures, permitting and guidelines for special events in the region.

The task force, made up mostly of city and county officials, will seek changes to ensure the city and county collaborate better on events that draw large crowds. The group plans to meet monthly, but members said Wednesday they do not know when they will release recommendations.

The officials left Astroworld unmentioned in their initial remarks, but later acknowledged the concert tragedy directly inspired the task force’s formation. Still, they insisted the group would look forward, not backward at any one event, and would not spend considerable time trying to determine what went wrong at the concert festival.

“I think anyone of us would be dishonest if we say it didn’t precipitate it. Certainly, it did,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding later: “This task force is going to be futuristic. The investigation into the Astroworld event continues, so we certainly do not want to impede in that investigation.”

[…]

The task force will be chaired by Susan Christian, the director of the mayor’s office of special events, and Perrye K. Turner, Sr., the deputy county administrator and the former FBI special agent in charge of the Houston division.

It will also include Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, Fire Chief Sam Peña, and Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen, as well as Steven Adelman, vice president of Event Safety Alliance; Rob McKinley, president of LD Systems, a production services company; Major Rolf Nelson of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office; Ryan Walsh, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp; and Mike DeMarco, chief show operations officer for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

As noted in the story, Commissioners Court decided against launching an independent investigation into the disaster, opting instead to let the law enforcement investigations do that work and to conduct an internal review. It’s not totally clear to me if this task force is the fulfillment of that “internal review” item, but I suspect it is as there’s no other mention of it that I can find, in this story or via Chronicle archive search. The task force, which was put together by Mayor Turner and Commissioner Adrian Garcia, looks fine, it’s just a matter of what their scope is and when they intend to produce a report. We’ll see.

It’s not like there aren’t a bunch of other things going on that will tell us more about the tragedy and things we could or should have done differently. In addition to the law enforcement investigation and all of the lawsuits, which should produce a lot of info when and if they get to the discovery phase, there’s also a Congressional probe and an FBI website seeking input from witnesses. This task force has a different and more focused mission, and if they do their job well it should produce something worthwhile. We’ll know soon enough.

FBI seeks Astroworld info

Spill ’em if you got ’em.

The FBI has created a website that seeks information on the deadly Astroworld Festival, the Houston Police Department said Friday.

Members of the public can upload photos and video from the Nov. 5 event at NRG Park. Police said in a statement that they’re specifically looking for media from between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. “of the main venue area,” which can be uploaded at fbi.gov/astroworld.

“HPD continues to lead this investigation and we appreciate the assistance from our federal partners at the FBI,” the statement read. The federal agency has previously offered to help with the investigation.

I genuinely have no idea how likely this is to result in usable, actionable information. For that matter, it’s not really clear to me what HPD might uncover in its investigation. I think we’re more likely to learn things from the county’s internal investigation and from the various lawsuits – whichever one gets to discovery first will probably be the main source of new information. But you never know.

Congressional committee has some questions for Live Nation

Interesting.

A congressional committee is investigating the promoter of the Astroworld music festival, where 10 people were killed in a crowd surge as rapper Travis Scott performed last month.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter Wednesday to Live Nation Entertainment Inc. President and CEO Michael Rapino requesting information on preparation and safety measures for the Nov. 5 event.

[…]

“Recent reports raise serious concerns about whether your company took adequate steps to ensure the safety of the 50,000 concertgoers who attended Astroworld Festival,” the top Democrat and Republican on the committee wrote in a letter also signed by U.S. Reps. Al Green, D-Houston, and Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands.

“For instance, reports indicate that security and medical staff were inexperienced or ill-equipped to deal with mass injuries,” they wrote. “Some attendees stated that the placement of barricades made it difficult to escape. Experts have stated that Astroworld Festival organizers failed to heed warning signs.”

[…]

The committee is requesting information about venue security, crowd control, mass casualty planning, emergency communications and medical care. The panel also wants to know at what time Live Nation Entertainment was first made aware of casualties, and what steps were taken in response.

The letter says the committee is also looking into reports that Live Nation withheld pay until part-time employees who worked the festival signed a revised employment contract that includes a broad provision releasing the company from liability in the 2021 festival.

The committee wants Rapino to address members during a briefing on the issue on Jan. 12, the letter says.

Hard to know how to evaluate this right now. This kind of action can often be more of an opportunity to grandstand than to uncover truth. Even with that in mind, we may learn things that might have stayed hidden or unnoticed otherwise. Let’s see what they can find out.

Travis Scott speaks

Really not sure this was his best move.

Amid countless lawsuits against him, Travis Scott sat down with The Breakfast Club radio personality, Charlamagne tha God, for his first public interview since a dangerous crowd surge injured hundreds and left 10 people dead during his Astroworld Festival performance on Nov. 5.

In a one-hour discussion shared to Charlamagne’s YouTube channel on Thursday, Scott, whose real name is Jacques Berman Webster II, shared that he’s been experiencing a range of emotions, largely grief, trying to wrap his head around the tragedy and remained consistent to previous statements denying his knowledge of the severity of the mass casualty incident until the press conference that occurred after his set.

“Even after the show you’re just kind of hearing things, but I didn’t know the exact details until minutes before the press conference,” he said, adding, “And even at that moment you’re like, ‘Wait, what?’”

“People pass out, things happen at concerts, but something like that… it’s just like,” he added before trailing off.

[…]

In response to criticism that the event was poorly planned and understaffed, Scott pointed to the responsibilities for all involved. An artist is responsible for the creative side of the show, he said while he trusts the “professionals” to control what they can in the crowd and “make sure that people are taken care of and leaving safely.”

“You can only help what you can see and whatever you’re told,” Scott said responding to a question about the responsibility an artist has to help in that type of situation. “Whenever somebody tell you to stop you just stop.”

James Lassiter, a Houston attorney representing the family of Bharti Shahani, a 22-year-old Texas A&M University student who died, and other injured festival attendees, responded to Scott’s interview Thursday afternoon.

“Travis Scott’s attempt to escape responsibility for creating a deadly situation from which his fans could not escape is shameful and, sadly, true to form,” he said in a statement.

Houston’s NRG Park, where the festival was held, occupied up to 50,000 guests that night, a crowd size that Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said he had enough officers onsite to handle. But he also said he could not have abruptly ended the show for fear of sparking a riot his department could not control.

Finner said the “ultimate authority” to end the show resided with LiveNation and with Scott. The two parties have largely taken the hit for the continuation of the concert for an additional 37 minutes after local authorities declared the event a mass casualty.

But in the interview, Scott said that part was never communicated with him directly.

Scott also denied the tragedy having anything to do with the crowd size as there have been festivities “way bigger,” he said.

“It’s not about the maximum of it, I think it’s about the attention to what’s going on and how it’s going on, and as long as that’s handled then I think things will be okay,” he said. “But as you look at it through the history of festivals, this isn’t the first time happening. It’s been a long history of this.”

The Astroworld Festival tragedy already ranks among deadliest U.S. concerts ever.

Scott said he believes he did everything he could possibly do to help. While he’s not surprised to be at the epicenter of the blame since he’s the “face of the festival,” he said he thinks the responsibility should be a shared load for everybody collectively to “just figure out the bottom line solution” to the problem to make sure this never happens again.

I dunno, man. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I’m pretty sure the right move in this kind of situation is to keep your mouth shut and limit any public remarks to “I can’t comment on pending litigation”. I feel very confident that all of the lawyers suing him – as well as counsel for the various co-defendants – will be listening to this interview very closely, and will be ready to pounce on any inconsistency that arises from future statements given under oath. I understand where he’s coming from, and whatever else happens I have empathy for him, but I can feel his lawyers cringing from here.

I’ll see your AstroWorld lawsuit and raise you $10 billion

That’s a big number, though that’s partly because there are a lot of plaintiffs.

A local law firm has just filed the largest suit to date against Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival after the mass-casualty tragedy that claimed the lives of 10 concert-goers. Attorney Brent Coon is demanding $10 billion in restitution on behalf of 1,547 attendees — that’s more petitioners than any firm thus far.

Additionally, Coon’s firm, Brett Coon & Associates, has filed a request with the Harris County District Court system to consolidate all cases involved into one courtroom to provide for more efficient management of the docket on behalf of all claimants, per a press release. A hearing is scheduled for December 13, 2021.

Aside from the mammoth suit, Coon notes in a statement that he is demanding legislative action to include crowd control planning specialists to certify events, mandated training programs for event preparation and criminal liability for any wrongdoing.

[…]

Coon’s suit comes after a $2 billion filing by San Antonio lawyer Thomas J. Henry and a $750 million petition by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee.

See here for some background, and here for the Chron story. I assume the mention of consolidating the cases is a reference to the many others that have been combined and will be heard in Harris County via the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel.

Not much else to add to that story, so let me note a couple of other AstroWorld items that I didn’t put into their own post. First up, Travis Scott is seeking to be dismissed as a defendant from eleven lawsuits.

Houston rapper Travis Scott has responded to 11 lawsuits launched against him in the deadly Astroworld festival tragedy denying all liability and requesting he and his record label Cactus Jack Music be dropped as defendants, according to court documents.

Scott, whose real name is Jacques B. Webster II, has been named in hundreds of lawsuits totaling billions of dollars since the tragedy that took 10 young lives on Nov. 5. Scott’s attorney Ed McPherson issued a “general denial” on his behalf to allegations claiming he was to blame for the deaths and injuries of concertgoers.

Scott is also requesting the claims be “dismissed with prejudice” so that once finished, cases cannot be refiled.

Representatives with Scott’s legal team said in an email to the Chronicle that the request is “a standard response to the plaintiff filing and reiterates what’s already been out there that Travis is not legally liable.”

One of the 10 victims, 22-year-old Texas A&M student Bharti Shahani, died nearly a week post-festival after succumbing to injuries that left her on a ventilator. Her family filed suit against Scott and festival organizers and refused to accept Scott’s financial assistance for funeral expenses. Their lawsuit is one of the 11 Scott’s lawyers responded to.

Not clear to me from the story why Scott is taking this action in only eleven lawsuits, or why these specific eleven lawsuits. Maybe they have something in common, maybe they were just first in line, maybe he’s in settlement talks with the others, maybe full dismissal will be sought for others. I have no idea, but given the high-powered legal team working for Scott and Live Nation, I’m sure this is just a first step.

Other AstroWorld stories that I have skimmed but not found anything original to say about:

Exclusive: CEO of Astroworld medical provider recalls moment when routine festival spiraled out of control

How missed warning signs at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival led to one of the worst U.S. concert tragedies

8 biggest revelations from the Houston Chronicle’s in-depth Astroworld investigation

This story will be with us for a long time.

A brief look at the winter storm litigation

This story is actually about the judge who will be presiding over winter storm cases, but it caught my eye for a reason that will be apparent.

Sylvia A. Matthews presided over more than 175 jury trials and 160 bench trials during her decade as a Harris County District Court judge. Lawyers for plaintiffs and defendants say she is smart, fair, well-prepared, hard-working, efficient and decisive.

Matthews will need all those qualities over the next several months as she oversees more than 150 highly complex civil lawsuits filed by victims seeking billions of dollars in damages as the result of last February’s winter storm, which was one of the deadliest and costliest disasters in Texas history.

The lawsuits filed across Texas include individuals suing for wrongful death, personal injury and property damages and companies complaining about breach of contracts, interruption of business and price-gouging.

Some of the largest power companies, such as the Houston utility CenterPoint Energy, the Chicago company Exelon and Vistra Energy of Irving, one of the state’s biggest generators and retail electricity providers.

While the lawsuits have been filed in more than a dozen Texas courts, the Texas Supreme Court has consolidated them into one docket, called multidistrict litigation.

The cases are consolidated for efficiency, allowing pretrial issues, such as production of evidence and admissibility of testimony, to be decided in a uniform matter. Once the pretrial issues are decided, the cases are usually sent back to the courts where the lawsuits were filed for trial.

For example, lawyers predict that the 200 lawsuits already filed in the Astroworld tragedy will also be consolidated into a single proceeding for pre-trial purposes.

[…]

The winter storm litigation is likely to take years to resolve, according to legal experts. In fact, the statute of limitations for more lawsuits does not expire for another year, meaning more cases may still be filed.

The stuff in between is about Judge Matthews, a Republican now serving as a visiting jurist following her electoral defeat in 2018. It’s fine, I’m glad she’s good at her job, but it was the stuff about the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel that I noticed. Here’s this thing I’d never heard of before October of this year, and now it’s turning up all over the place, including and not surprisingly in the AstroWorld cases. I feel like someone owes me a nice in-depth explainer about this body. How long has it been in existence, what are the rules that govern it, who serves and how do they get there, and is it just one of those things that it’s been a key player in such high profile and hot button matters as these cases plus SB8 or is it somehow a sign of the times? Oh, to be an assignment editor. Seriously, someone write me that story, I’d read the hell out of it.

Anyway. Litigation over the freeze and blackout and responsibility for the latter will no doubt go on for years, but hopefully it will help provide some answers. Lord knows, we’re not getting any from our state leaders. I’ll be keeping an eye out for further news.

Travis Scott’s legal team

Some heavy hitters here.

Prominent Los Angeles trial lawyer Daniel Petrocelli sent an electronic letter late last Wednesday to lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Astroworld Festival tragedy announcing that he now represents rapper Travis Scott and offering to pay the funeral costs of those who died at the Nov. 5 concert in Houston.

“Your client’s offer is declined,” Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard, who represents the family of 9-year-old Ezra Blount, who died at the concert, said in an email response to Petrocelli.

The Thanksgiving Eve email exchange answered the question of who Scott, who was born Jacques Bermon Webster II, would select as his lead lawyer to defend him against more than 120 civil wrongful death, personal injury and premises liability lawsuits filed in the three weeks since the Astroworld event.

Petrocelli, who is head of litigation for the global corporate law firm O’Melveny & Myers, is known for representing high-profile clients.

In 2002, Dallas rocker Don Henley hired Petrocelli to successfully fend off wrongful firing charges levied by Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder. Two years later, Petrocelli defended Enron CFO Jeff Skilling against criminal fraud and insider trading charges. Skilling was convicted. And in 2018, Petrocelli served as the lead trial lawyer for Dallas-based AT&T and Time Warner in the federal government’s antitrust lawsuit seeking stop their merger. AT&T won.

Petrocelli burst into the national spotlight in 1997 when he represented the father of Ron Goldman suing O.J. Simpson for his son’s wrongful death. A jury awarded his client $8.5 million.

“Dan is an absolutely superb, elite trial lawyer,” said Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Rob Walters, who was co-counsel with Petrocelli in the AT&T litigation. “Dan has an uncanny ability of establishing the moral high ground, which resonates well with factfinders.”

“Dan and Neal will be a formidable team in court in this litigation,” said Walters, referring to Susman Godfrey partner Neal Manne, who has been hired by Astroworld festival promotor Live Nation.

Well, when you’ve got a couple of billion dollars’ worth of lawsuits filed against you, you’re probably not going to skimp on the legal defense. It will be very interesting to see how Petrocelli directs the defense, which also includes criminal defense attorney Kent Schaffer, whom you may know as one of the Ken Paxton special prosecutors. Neal Manne, the Live Nation lawyer, was the lead on the misdemeanor bail lawsuit against Harris County. Like I said, heavy hitters.

Another AstroWorld lawsuit

It must have sucked to have been a security guard at that event.

Jackson Bush found the Astroworld Festival security gig through social media.

He and his uncle, Samuel Bush, applied and the New York-based company, AJ Melino & Associates, never checked their credentials, including a background check or whether they were licensed for security work through the state, he said.

The employer did not provide a W-2 form, according to both men.

“They told us to show up in all black and that’s what we did,” the eldest Bush said.

The uncle and nephew, both Houston residents, are suing the sub-contractor security company in connection to the fateful festival on Nov. 5 that left 10 people dead and several more hurt amid rapper Travis Scott’s chaotic performance. Their suit contends the company failed to provide a safe workplace environment or properly train them for what would devolve into one of the deadliest concerts in history.

The night ended a far cry from how it started around 5:30 a.m., with the two not knowing who to report to at the NRG Park grounds or how much they would be paid. During the chaos, Jackson Bush, 46, broke his right hand and injured his back as he tried plucking people from the crushing crowd. His nephew, 25, suffered shoulder and back pain during the fatal show.

Two weeks after the ordeal, an unspecified sum on Friday arrived in their Cash App and lawyer Larry Taylor said it was a fourth of what they were likely owed. Another security guard told the younger Bush that they would paid a $30 hourly rate.

“That’s still one of the things that’s still in dispute,” Taylor said.

[…]

As for duties, the men were eventually told to keep people from entering the festival grounds without a ticket — which happened, regardless, throughout the day. Droves of people hopped fences and rushed the barricades to get inside the Astroworld grounds.

“They told us where to stand, not to let people run in and try to be safe — not lay any hands on anybody,” the younger Bush said. “As far as training, there was no training.”

The plaintiffs are seeking $1 million in damages, including court costs. Not as big as some other lawsuits, but enough to notice. I also suspect that any discovery materials or witness testimony from this kind of litigation could turn up later in other cases, as I strongly suspect the overall security was as inadequate and overwhelmed as these guys make it sound.

Time for some bigger AstroWorld lawsuits

Here is a large number.

As the lawsuits continue to pile up following the aftermath of the Astroworld Festival tragedy, attorney Tony Buzbee has filed one of the largest yet.

The prominent Houston lawyer filed a suit Monday on behalf of 125 clients, including Axel Acosta, who was one of the 10 victims who passed away from a catastrophic crowd surge.

Buzbee said at a Nov. 8 press conference that Acosta was suffocated and trampled and left on the muddy ground “like a piece of trash.”

“His death was needless, and was the result of gross negligence,” Buzbee said in a statement.

The suit seeks more than $750 million in damages and names a slew of defendants, including Travis Scott, whose real name is Jacques Bermon Webster II, Drake, whose real name is Aubrey Graham, Apple Music, Live Nation the event organizer, Cactus Jack Records, Travis Scott’s record label company, as well as other labels like Epic Records and Grand Hustle Records associated with producing the event, and Paradocs, the private medical company hired for the festival among others.

“The Buzbee Law Firm believes, based on its ongoing investigation, that Apple Music, Epic Records and many other corporations that stood to profit from Astroworld will share legal blame in a court of law, in front of a Texas jury,” Buzbee said.

The 55-page suit attacks Scott’s history of inciting behavior Scott refers to as raging both on social media and at his concerts, including the rapper’s previous misdemeanor charges for reckless conduct in 2015, plus disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and endangering the welfare of a minor in 2017 after he encouraged a fan to jump from a balcony. At least one person fell and became paralyzed in that incident.

See here for some background. Buzbee has another lawsuit on behalf of 100 clients in the works, so presumably that will be in the same ballpark. And if that isn’t big enough for you, try this.

A $2 billion lawsuit has been filed on behalf of nearly 300 victims of the Astroworld tragedy that left 10 people dead and 25 hospitalized earlier this month.

The lawsuit was filed by Texas Attorney Thomas Henry on behalf of 282 Astroworld victims. The suit seeks up to $2 billion in damages from a long list of defendants, including Apple Music, Travis Scott, Drake, Live Nation, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, and NRG Stadium.

“The defendants stood to make an exorbitant amount of money off of this event, and they still chose to cut corners, cut costs, and put attendees at risk,” Henry said in a statement. “My clients want to ensure the defendants are held responsible for their actions, and they want to send the message to all performers, event organizers, and promoters that what happened at Astroworld cannot happen again.”

Henry added that another 120 victims have contacted his firm seeking representation.

More than 165 lawsuits have been filed in the wake of Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert earlier this month.

There’s basically no chance of a verdict that results in damages of that magnitude, and even if that did happen it would be drastically reduced on appeal, but these complaints will get the attention of the defendants and their insurance companies. Figure there will be a reasonable settlement reached at some point, for each of them. It will be a very active time for everyone involved until then. CultureMap has more.

No independent investigation of the AstroWorld tragedy

Not sure how I feel about this yet.

Harris County will not launch an independent investigation into the Astroworld festival disaster after commissioners declined to support a plan by County Judge Lina Hidalgo to do so.

Instead, the group on Tuesday voted unanimously to conduct an internal review, at the request of Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“I proposed a more thorough and detailed scope to increase the likelihood of objectivity and an impactful outcome,” Hidalgo said. “While this scales back my proposal, I am happy to see the court move as a unit on some next steps.”

Garcia, a former Houston Police Department officer, made a motion to support that agency’s investigation. The motion also directed the county administrator, Harris County Sports Authority and Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation to examine safety regulations for outdoor concerts.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces in this particular event, so my motion is intended to help us move forward in the spirit of making sure that we are coordinating and collaborating, but at the same time looking forward,” Garcia said.

He expressed concern that authorizing a new investigation would expose the county to lawsuits.

[…]

Hidalgo, as a member of the three-member Democratic majority, rarely loses votes on Commissioners Court. She was unable, however, to convince any of her colleagues behind closed doors to support her plan for an independent investigation of the festival, which she said would not interfere with the Houston Police Department’s probe.

Hidalgo said she hopes the review would suggest actions the county can take to make concerts safer.

I hope so, too. I liked the idea of an independent investigation, though there had been no discussion of what that might look like and what powers the investigator would have. Campos thinks it’s a mistake for the county to not pursue this, while Erica Greider has mixed feelings. The county’s review will not overlap with the HPD criminal probe, so maybe it will turn up some useful information. Like I said, I hope this is worthwhile.

UPDATE: Stace also thinks Commissioners Court should have approved the independent investigation.

Some more AstroWorld stuff

Firefighter logs from the event tell the story of early chaos and continued problems.

Houston firefighters arrived at a small command post parked on the far-flung Orange Lot, about a mile from the festival grounds. They spent the day listening to radio dispatches from some of the hundreds of Houston police officers inside and outside the park, or using cellphones to call the concert organizers’ privately hired medical providers. They added notable updates to the 11-page log.

After the early breach of the entry, firefighters wrote just after 10 a.m.: “Venue fences damaged. No control of participants.”

In the initial rush on the gates, four concertgoers were injured, the logs show. Revved-up concertgoers would rush gates at least nine other times Friday, fire officials wrote.

At about 11 a.m. Friday, firefighters noted that a crowd of about 100 people were headed toward the Fiesta. Eighteen minutes later, they noted another 200 people approaching the park’s Gate 10.

“Participants are now dismantling barricades,” firefighters wrote.

[…]

Shortly after 5 p.m., the place was already about two-thirds full, according to the logs. The number of concert crashers appears to have grown significantly as well, with one entry showing that officials estimated as many as 5,000 people had not been scanned entering the park.

Police continued to respond to calls of people pushing down fencing at 5:50 p.m. and an hour later. They reported a “mob” at Main Street at 7:15 p.m., and a crowd of some 250 people rushing a pedestrian bridge nine minutes later.

Half an hour later, police had another 13 people in custody.

At 8 p.m., they reported a Houston police officer suffering from a hand injury;

By 9 p.m. — about the time that Travis Scott began performing — the crowd at NRG park had grown to 55,000, according to the logs.

As the concert progressed, hundreds of festivalgoers continued to pour over fencing.

But if the security breaches were the first signs of trouble, the most significant signs of danger began to appear shortly after 9:15 p.m.

“Individual with crush injury, breathing difficulty,” firefighters noted, at 9:18 p.m. “(ParaDocs) en route.”

“This is when it all got real,” they wrote, at 9:28 p.m.

There’s more if you want to keep reading. I suspect we’re going to learn a lot from these logs, and from what the firefighters who wrote them have to say about it now.

Another source of information about this disaster will be all the litigation.

Attorneys representing more than 200 people claiming they were injured in last week’s Astroworld Festival stampede in Houston said on Friday that they are filing another 90 lawsuits against the promoters of the event in which at least nine people died.

The announcement marked the latest legal action to follow last Friday’s concert by Grammy Award-nominated rapper Travis Scott before a crowd of 50,000 at NRG Stadium that got out of control when fans surged toward the stage.

“We represent more than 200 victims who were injured mentally, physically and psychologically at the Astroworld Festival,” civil rights Attorney Ben Crump announced at a news conference in Houston.

At least 50 other suits have been brought against producer Live Nation Entertainment Inc and Scott over the deaths and injuries related to the Astroworld Festival that was intended to signal the resurgence of Scott’s hometown.

A ninth person succumbed to her injuries on Wednesday, raising the death toll to nine. It occurs to me that the families of the deceased have not yet filed any lawsuits. I have to imagine those will come later. We will be re-living this experience for a long time.

And in the end, I hope we learn from this terrible experience.

The Danish city of Roskilde shares little with Houston other than a proximity to a waterway and a music festival tragedy in which nine people died.

The Roskilde Festival, which typically draws more than twice as many music fans as the town’s population of around 50,000, made only celebratory news until its 30th year, when nine fans were crushed in a mosh pit during a Pearl Jam performance there on June 30, 2000.

One year later, the festival returned with Bob Dylan headlining.

Carlos Chirinos, a music and global health professor at New York University, studies music-related crowds and behaviors. He worked with Roskilde Festival organizers in 2005.

“I was impressed with how they stepped up security in the pit,” he said. “I had an opportunity to be close with security and saw how closely they worked with stage management. They tried to achieve total control.

“And they haven’t had any incidents since then.”

[…]

In the meantime, experts say large-scale changes to how the music industry conducts its events are unlikely to take place. Those advocating for the end of general-admission music festivals with tens of thousands of concert-goers may get a short-term reprieve: the festival season largely hibernates for the winter.

But by next spring and summer, music festivals will likely return in full fervor.

“It’s not cynical, but just an observation, that some of the most heartbreaking tragedies at mass gatherings in the United States have not yielded a lot of change,” said Steve Adelman, vice president of the Event Safety Alliance. The non-profit organization was formed following a 2011 concert event that was to feature the band Sugarland at the Indiana State Fair. Severe winds knocked down supports for a temporary roof, killing seven fans and injuring dozens of others.

“What are the likely long-term changes after the tragedy at Astroworld? You can find people asking if it will be the end of GA shows, and commenters saying that will happen. I don’t think that’s likely at all,” Adelman said. “If for no other reason than the economic model for the music industry has changed. No one is selling records. So the industry sells live music, food, beverages and merchandise. That’s just the model. It’s economics.”

Of course, those that organize and promote these events have to be able to get insurance for them. The lawsuits may make that more difficult for them, or at least force them to make some changes. But yeah, it’s probably best not to bet on anything truly game-changing. Attend at your own risk, hopefully with the knowledge of what can go wrong.

The safety protocols

We won’t know for some time what exactly went wrong at AstroWorld, but we do know what should have been in place to keep the concertgoers safe.

When tens of thousands of people are packed into a confined area like NRG Park, crowd surges of some form are to be expected, security industry experts say, and certain precautions should be implemented.

“It’s very natural when the lights go down or somebody takes the stage, the entire crowd takes a step forward. It’s just natural, you move toward the point of interest. … And depending on the density of the crowd, that can become extremely dangerous,” said Tamara Herold, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Herold researches crowd management and works with security firms and sports leagues around the world to ensure public safety at large-scale events.

While Herold couldn’t comment on the security at the Astroworld Festival, citing a lack of publicly released information, she said there are general steps organizers can take to mitigate risk at such festivals.

[…]

High-density events such as Astroworld carry with them inherent dangers, which have played out to tragic ends at concerts and sporting events throughout modern history. More specifically, Herold’s research has found that there is a much higher likelihood of violence and injury at events with general admission seating, the standard at festivals such as Astroworld.

One way to mitigate that risk is to separate the crowd into more manageable sections, Herold said. Videos posted to social media do appear to show the area in front of the stage separated into four sections.

If a crowd surge turns dangerous, the next best bet is to notify the performer, have them pause the show and encourage the crowd to settle down, according to Herold.

“If you allow the concert to continue, the pressure will continue to build, people will begin to panic and then they behave in ways that create even more pressure in the crowd as they try to escape, and it creates a very desperate situation,” Herold said.

See here and here for some background. Professor Herold is speaking in general terms, and what she says makes a lot of sense. This particular event should have had its own safety protocols, and there are questions about whether they were followed.

Astroworld had a plan for all sorts of emergencies. It designated who could stop a performance and how. It included a script for how to announce an evacuation. It detailed how to handle a mass casualty event.

Whether promoters followed it Friday evening, when eight concertgoers died and scores were injured during Travis Scott’s headlining performance, is unclear.

The Houston Chronicle obtained the 56-page “event operations plan,” which the festival promoter developed to ensure the safety of 50,000 guests at the sold-out event at NRG Park.

“Astroworld, as an organization, will be prepared to evaluate and respond appropriately to emergency situations, so as to prevent or minimize injury or illness to guests, event personnel and the general public,” the document states.

Attendees described an entirely different scene: an overwhelmed venue where security personnel were unable to prevent fans from being crushed. Where medics were too few. And where production staff were unwilling to halt the show despite pleas from fans that others had collapsed.

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said a review of the plan — and whether it was properly followed — should be part of an objective, third-party investigation of the tragedy.

“What I know so far is that Live Nation and Astroworld put together plans for this event,” Hidalgo said Saturday. “A security plan, a site plan. That they were at the table with the city of Houston and Harris County. And so perhaps the plans were inadequate. Perhaps the plans were good, but they weren’t followed. Perhaps it was something else entirely.”

Litigation will provide a window into that, but that’s a slow process. Judge Hidalgo is right, we need a thorough investigation; I’m not sure what a third-party investigation would look like, but as long as everyone has sufficient faith in whoever is leading it, that’s fine by me. The goal should be to come to some answers, even just preliminary ones, in a short time frame. We all need to know how and why this happened. Ken Hoffman and Texas Public Radio have more.

How to help the AstroWorld victims

Very straightforward.

Houstonians hoping to help the victims can contribute to their verified GoFundMe accounts. The fundraising platform has created a hub for Astroworld victims with direct links to verified campaigns to help families cover funeral expenses and medical bills.

“We prioritize balancing speed and safety to ensure funds are distributed as quickly as possible to those who need help,” GoFundMe said in a release.

The verified accounts so far include:

GoFundMe said the online hub will be updated with more fundraisers as they are created and verified.

I don’t have anything to add here. Go help if you can.

Here come the AstroWorld lawsuits

As well they should.

At least 34 Astroworld Festival attendees have sued or plan to sue the event promoter in what is expected to be a bevy of litigation related to the mayhem at NRG Park.

At least eight people died and dozens more were injured Friday during rapper Travis Scott’s concert at the Houston festival. The plaintiffs in several of the lawsuits allege that their injuries — and in one case, a family member’s death — were aided by the negligence of organizers, who they say failed to plan a safe event and failed to provide adequate medical staff, security and equipment for what was expected to be an unruly scene.

“Tragically, due to Defendants’ motivation for profit at the expense of concertgoers’ health and safety, and due to their encouragement of violence, at least 8 people lost their lives and scores of others were injured at what was supposed to be a night of fun,” attorneys said in a lawsuit filed by concert attendee Manuel Souza.

[…]

Souza and another attendee, Cristian Guzman, filed separate $1 million lawsuits in state civil district court over the weekend, alleging they were both trampled and injured.

Guzman, who said he suffered a significant back injury, is suing Live Nation, NRG Park, NRG Energy and the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation.

Souza is suing a variety of owners, operators, promoters and public relations representatives – including Scoremore, Live Nation, ASM Global, Travis Scott and a number of other named individuals.

Both of the men are also asking the court to grant temporary restraining orders that would require the defendants preserve evidence in the case.

See here and here for some background. Stories like this are certain to become obsolete quickly, as more lawsuits get filed. KUT and CultureMap both mention lawsuits not included in the Chron story, and legal experts anticipate many more. Which is how it should be! Eight people, including two children, died at this event, and many others were injured and traumatized. It may ultimately be shown that everyone involved in the planning and execution of this event acted responsibly and took adequate safety measures, but no one believes that right now, and nor should they. We have a civil justice system for a reason, and this is what it’s here for. I guarantee you, we will learn more about what happened via discovery and deposition than by any other means. The Press has more.

A timeline of the AstroWorld tragedy

Good reporting about a terrible event.

For 37 minutes after Houston police and firefighters responded to a “mass casualty” event at a packed Astroworld rap concert where attendees were crushed against the stage Friday evening, Travis Scott continued performing.

Police officials said the promoter, Live Nation, agreed to cut the show shortly after multiple people collapsed at 9:38 p.m. But concert attendees said Scott appeared to play his whole set and finished at 10:15 p.m. Concert staff ignored pleas from fans to halt the show, including some who climbed onto camera platforms to point out others who had collapsed and needed medical attention.

A review of videos and social media posts that documented one of the deadliest concerts in U.S. history raises questions about the official timeline of events put forth by local officials, the swiftness of their response and their ability to communicate effectively with concert promoters during the disaster.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said he had enough officers onsite to handle the crowd of 50,000. But he also said he could not have abruptly ended the show for fear of sparking a riot his department could not control.

The delay restricted the movement of first responders, who were still transporting limp bodies when Scott finished his final song, “Goosebumps.”

Eight people died, including 14- and 16-year-old high school students. Scores were injured.

[…]

Two veteran concert promoters of major shows — one with experience in Texas — said the plans and procedures between promoters, showrunners and local officials outline exactly how to pull the plug on a show. Neither would comment publicly because Live Nation, the company that managed Astroworld, is a dominant force in entertainment booking.

Often, a performer with a high-energy and complex performance such as Scott’s would have a direct line to a producer or stage manager via an earpiece. The producer/manager would be in constant contact and have the ability at practically any time to tell a performer what is going on and that a show is being abruptly halted.

Cancellation can come from various people along the process, ranging from the artists themselves to promoters and police. Stage crews can, in a matter of seconds if necessary, turn off all power to the stage and broadcast safety and security messages on video boards and over the audio system.

Live Nation did not use the PA system or video boards to broadcast any safety messages Friday evening, attendees said.

The procedures are especially common when promoters hold outdoor shows. Free Press Summer Fest, held across multiple stages and at multiple venues in the Houston area over the past decade, canceled and restarted performances in a matter of minutes as rain moved into the area in 2015 and 2016.

See here for some background, and read on for that timeline, which was put together with the help of eyewitness accounts and their social media posts. There are a lot of questions to be answered about whether security was adequate and what happened with communications, and it’s important that we figure that out and make the answers public. And then, as needed, seek accountability.

The AstroWorld concert tragedy

Just awful.

At least eight people are dead and dozens more injured after a sold-out crowd of roughly 50,000 surged during rapper Travis Scott’s performance late Friday at the Astroworld Festival outside NRG Park, overwhelming security forces and resulting in one of the deadliest concerts in U.S. history.

As Scott’s performance started shortly after 9 p.m., the chaotic crowd seemingly swallowed everyone in it, Instagram user SeannaFaith wrote.

“The rush of people became tighter and tighter. .. Breathing became something only a few were capable. The rest were crushed or unable to breathe in the thick hot air,” she wrote. “It was like watching a Jenga tower topple. Person after person were sucked down…. You were at the mercy of the wave.”

“We begged security to help us, for the performer to see us and know something was wrong,” she continued. “None of that came, we continued to drown.”

Then, one person fell. And another.

“We had a mass casualty event here at Astroworld,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.

Seventeen people were taken to the hospital, 11 of whom Peña described as being in cardiac arrest. Eight are confirmed dead. Some of the victims might be children.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called it an “extremely tragic night,” as families awaited word on whether their loved ones were safe. The Houston Police Department is in the process of identifying victims at hospitals, and a reunification center was set up at the Wyndham Houston Hotel at 8686 Kirby. People searching for loved ones can also call 832-393-2991 or 832-393-2990.

“Our hearts are broken,” Hidalgo said. “People go to these events looking for a good time. It’s not the kind of event where you expect to find out about fatalities.”

The news conference with Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo came on while I was drafting this, which confirmed that the casualty count remains at eight, including two people under the age of 18, and that there were no people known to be missing at that time. There will be an investigation into how this happened. My heart goes out to everyone who was affected by this tragedy.

So whatever happened to Astroworld II?

It’s still out there, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.

For more than four years, Mayor Sylvester Turner has trumpeted Houston’s need for a destination theme park that would boost the region’s tourism industry and provide an outlet for families.

In the final weeks of his reelection campaign last year, he even said an amusement company was interested and that an announcement could come within weeks.

“I’ve had investors come and sit around my table to talk about it,” he said that October.

That teaser came months after the mayor appeared at rapper Travis Scott’s concert — part of the Grammy-nominated Houston native’s “Astroworld” tour, named for a theme park that sat across the South Loop from the Astrodome for 37 years before closing in 2005. Standing on the Toyota Center stage, Turner gave a beaming Scott a key to the city and drew thunderous applause when he said, “Because of him, we want to bring another amusement theme park back to the city!”

The announcement hinted at last fall never came, however. After he won reelection last December, Turner said investors had surveyed land on the north side but determined the site was not a good fit.

Still, Turner said several large parcels within the city limits could host a marquee park, and said he planned to form a task force in January of this year to focus on the idea, with the goal of having a park open by the time term limits force him from office at the end of 2023.

Turner spokeswoman Mary Benton said this month that the mayor was in the process of asking people to join his theme park task force when the pandemic arrived and became the administration’s main focus. Still, she said, Turner has not abandoned the goal.

“The mayor looks forward to resuming work on developing a theme park as soon as possible,” Benton said. “There is strong interest among developers who recognize the value of building a new theme park venue in Houston.”

[…]

There are many reasons why few major parks have been developed in the U.S. in recent decades, however, and that still fewer have been built without public subsidies, said Wonwhee Kim, chief intelligence officer for The Park Database, whose staff also work with developers hoping to build new parks.

“They’re a type of infrastructure costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and once you build it, it can’t easily be changed,” Kim said. “In the 1970s you could get by with opening a theme park with 10 attractions because that was the beginning of the industry. But now because expectations are so high, a developer would have to come in and build to the level of the existing parks. It’s very risky, and so most theme parks these days are built with some kind of public-private partnership.”

See here for an early mention of this possibility. As noted, in the Chron story and in that post, only half of the original Astroworld site is available, so location is a possible issue. And, not to put too fine a point on it, now is not a great time for theme parks in any form or fashion. Maybe put that one on the agenda for the next Mayor, and review the remaining items on the to-do list for the second term.

Another AstroWorld auction

Warm up your credit cards.

Could be yours

If your wallet is as deep as your love for Houston’s AstroWorld, you’re in luck.

An online auction is selling off a little more than 300 items from the theme park that closed its gates in 2005. From character statues to giant welcome signs, now is the time to grab your piece of Houston history.

The number of items available is expected to at least double in the coming days, according to Ken Spicer, president and head auctioneer of SITE Auction Services.

[…]

SITE Auction Services is selling the items through an online venue but plans on holding a live, in-person auction on Saturday, Feb. 23 at Emiliano’s Sports Bark at 7710 East Freeway.

The bar will have the items on display during the week leading up to the auction.

The online auction catalog is here. We last had an AstroWorld auction back in 2006. Who knows when you may get another chance? Don’t miss out.

Astroworld II?

Mayor Turner would like to see it happen.

Rest in peace

In a recent informal lunch with members of the media as he approached six months in office, Mayor Sylvester Turner ticked off the important things his administration has accomplished — unanimous passage of a balanced budget, pothole repairs — and issues he plans to tackle — the pension mess, theKush problem in city parks, serious street repair projects, job development.

But what really got the mayor excited is the idea of a major amusement park within the city limits of Houston. “If we want to be that destination city in terms of conferences and tourism, we have to have that component in this city,” he said.

“It’s one thing to have the rodeo, that’s once a year for three weeks. The Super Bowl will be here and gone. The America Cup COPA, came, gone. NCAA (Final Four), come and gone. We need a major amusement center in this city, especially to focus on our families and young population that’s every day in this city.”

Turner said the park would have to be located in Houston and not in a suburb.

“I’m not talking about in Katy or Tomball or Spring or Pearland,” he said. “I’m talking about within the 640 square miles of the city of Houston. That’s something we are missing and we are putting out in the atmosphere. Hopefully there will be major investors who are looking within the 640 square miles. You can’t be the fourth largest city, soon to be the third, and not have that added component. So we are taking a very hard look at finding that sort of amusement center.”

Well, half of the original Astroworld site is still available – the other half is now owned by the Rodeo. I have no idea how many other parcels of land within city limits there are that would be big enough for an amusement park, and I strongly suspect the number of such parcels with easy access to a freeway is even smaller, but who knows? It would be cool if it could happen. Swamplot has more.

It’s about use, not just sentiment

NYT reporter Jere Longman, who hails from Houston, penned a love letter to the Astrodome after hearing about its possible impending demise.

At long last, is this the end?

So it was despairing to hear that the vacant Astrodome might be torn down and its site paved over as Houston prepares to host the 2017 Super Bowl. Demolition would be a failure of civic imagination, a betrayal of Houston’s greatness as a city of swaggering ambition, of dreamers who dispensed with zoning laws and any restraint on possibility.

A recent drive past the abandoned Astrodome at night revealed it to be unlit. It has been closed since 2008. The stadium was visible in silhouette, like a waning moon.

In daylight, however, beneath the dust and neglect, the Astrodome’s silvery exterior continues to summon a city’s innovative past and futuristic promise. By contrast, Reliant Stadium next door is a dull football arena, designed with all the imagination of a hangar to park a blimp.

James Glassman, a Houston preservationist, calls the Astrodome the city’s Eiffel Tower and the “physical manifestation of Houston’s soul.” New York could afford to tear down old Yankee Stadium, Glassman said, because the city had hundreds of other signature landmarks. Not Houston. Along with oil, NASA and the pioneering heart surgeons Michael E. DeBakey and Denton A. Cooley, the technological marvel of the Astrodome put a young, yearning city on the global map.

“There was a confluence of space-age, Camelot-era optimism, and we were right there,” said Glassman, founder of the Web site Houstorian.org. “It really set us on the road for a go-go future.”

Houston’s best ideas bring clever solutions to tricky problems. The weed whacker was invented there in 1971 by a dance instructor and developer named George Ballas. He got the idea from whirling brushes at a car wash. His prototype consisted of an edger and fishing wire threaded through a can of popcorn.

The Astrodome was built to solve a vexing conundrum: How to bring major league baseball to a city where the temperature could match the league leaders in runs batted in?

[…]

Demolition “would symbolize that we’ve just decided to quit,” said Ryan Slattery, whose master’s thesis in architecture at the University of Houston offers a different alternative.

Slattery’s plan, which has gained traction, involves a vision of green space. He would strip the Astrodome to its steel skeleton, evoking the Eiffel Tower of sport, and install a park. It could be used for football tailgating, livestock exhibitions, recreational sports. Other ideas have been floated through the years, some more realistic than others: music pavilion, casino, movie studio, hotel, museum, shopping mall, indoor ski resort, amusement park.

All private proposals for the Astrodome are due by June 10 to the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, which oversees the stadium.

Legitimate debate can be had about whether the Astrodome’s innovations ultimately enhanced or detracted from the broader sporting experience. Whether indoor stadiums lend sterility. Whether artificial turf leaves players more vulnerable to injury. Whether we need scoreboards to tell us to cheer. Whether basketball played in giant arenas is an abomination.

But the Astrodome is too essential to become a parking lot. Slattery is right when he says that Houston should not demolish the memory of its past but reimagine it for the future.

Again, as someone who Did Not Grow Up Here, I don’t share the sentimental attachment to the Dome, and as a lifelong Yankee fan who watched the House That Ruth Built get demolished, I’m not greatly moved by pleadings about other stadia’s historicness. The weed whacker is a great invention and all, but last I checked New York was the home of some innovations, too. Forgive me if I don’t see how that has anything to do with the argument at hand. Jeff Balke, who is from here, has come to accept that the Dome may be doomed, and he just has one simple request.

But, for the love of all that’s holy, if the powers that be are going to, once and for all, demolish the only true identifiable Houston landmark, why must it be for a parking structure?

The truth is blowing up the Astrodome to build a parking garage for VIP parking would be in character for our city. We live in a city where historic preservation may as well be a four-letter word. The laws — and I use that term extremely loosely — governing what can be protected are so lax that virtually anyone with a bulldozer and a wad of cash can shred any structure in the city and build whatever they goddamn well please on the piece of dirt that remains.

Most believe that the plan for the Dome has been set in motion for some time. With a limited deadline in place and few real solutions — at least ones that have monetary backing — it seems a foregone conclusion that the Texans and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will get their wish and teardown the Eighth Wonder of the World to be replaced by a place you park your luxury SUV.

(Of course, if they wanted that, they have a GIANT FREAKING EMPTY LOT DIRECTLY ACROSS THE FREEWAY ATTACHED WITH A BRIDGE, but that would make far too much sense.)

I’ve heard people complain that they are sick of hearing the argument and we should just tear down this old, sad, rotting structure. Fact is, the structure isn’t rotting. Sure, the seats are. The sheetrock is. But the bones of the building are in fine condition. It has held up against multiple hurricanes and housed the victims of one of the most devastating disasters in U.S. history, a shelter for those no one else wanted. And this is how we repay that memory?

There is also the old “whatever we do, it should be cost neutral” argument. Yes, because everything good in this world must turn a profit. I’m fairly certain no one in Paris worries that the Eiffel Tower doesn’t earn money. The Roman Coliseum is anything but cheap to maintain, yet the folks in Italy aren’t clamoring for it to be torn down so they can put in some luxury condos. And before you start in on the whole “You can’t compare those places to a football stadium,” the Astrodome is modern history’s version of an architectural marvel. It was the first of its kind and it is to Houston what those other iconic structures are to their cities, just a little younger.

It should be noted that the Rodeo bought part of the old Astroworld site in December, which they already use for parking. Surely there’s a deal to be made with the county and Reliant that could address Jeff’s concerns. Be that as it may, I disagree with his point about other landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum. Age and historic value questions aside, those things are in active use today. The Dome isn’t. That’s really what this all comes down to, whether or not there’s a viable, financially sustainable use for the Dome in some form. As such, the cost issue does matter. The county would like to not have to pay $1.5 million a year on top of the bond debt it still owes to maintain an empty building, and any private investors not only have to convince a bank to finance their redevelopment scheme but also have to earn enough money in the long run to keep it afloat. Look at it this way – if the county agrees to sell the Dome to a developer to be converted into a museum or hotel or park or whatever, and they subsequently go belly-up because it turns out there just wasn’t that much demand for whatever they built, what do you think happens then? I don’t know for sure, but I can say with some certainty that it won’t involve multiple feasibility studies and a public referendum. It’s in our interest to get it right the first time, because if we don’t we won’t get to have any say in what happens after it all goes wrong. I certainly agree that anything is better than another parking lot, but not anything is necessarily more likely to be around in another decade or so than a parking lot.

Your one-minute real estate update

I just have one mostly tangential thing to say about this.

Houston will see a modest and steady growth in retail activity in 2013, according to Ed Wulfe’s annual retail forecast.

And the following year should be much better, said Wulfe, who is chairman and CEO of Wulfe & Co., a retail development, brokerage and property management firm.

The amount of new shopping center space to be built and opened in 2013 will be slightly greater than this year’s, while 2014 should be “very strong based on what’s underway,” Wulfe said.

I note that story mostly because it seems like as good an excuse as any to wonder once again about the status of all those long-dormant projects whose empty lots serve as a daily reminder of their lack of activity. I speak of course of the Stables and the Robinson Warehouse, now celebrating its sixth anniversary of vacantness. At last report the Sonoma site was being redeveloped; I can’t personally confirm this, as I generally avoid the area. Regent Square was supposed to have commenced construction in October, but I haven’t seen anything on the Allen Parkway part of the property. And one property that I generally forget about but was in the news recently, the old Astroworld site, also continues to lay fallow. I know this story is about retail development, and most of the sites I’m talking about were intended to be residential or mixed-use, but I feel like the Houston real estate market won’t truly be healthy again until something is happening with all of them.

Rodeo buys part of old Astroworld site

Unclear what this means.

Rest in peace

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is acquiring half of the old Six Flags AstroWorld property for $42.8 million.

The organization’s board of directors on Thursday authorized show officials to acquire 48 acres of the former amusement park site to diversify its investments, the nonprofit announced in a news release on its website.

The land, which is near Reliant Park, is used for tailgating at Texans games, and for several years the rodeo has had an agreement to use the property for patron parking.

“This actually is a piece of land that’s next door,” RodeoHouston chief operating officer Leroy Shafer said. “Immediately, we know we can park there. … We can do some improvements to the parking that will help us more with the inclement weather.”

[…]

The rodeo’s acquisition abuts Chuck Davis Chevrolet and generally runs north to south from Loop 610 to West Bellfort. It includes a pedestrian bridge that crosses over the loop to the Reliant Park parking lot.

Here’s the HLSR press release. The story notes that this land last changed hands in 2010. In 2007, the owners at that time sought the creation of a municipal management district to help pay for infrastructure, which included the possibility of extending the Main Street rail line into the property. What all this means for any future development on this site is unknown, but I for one hope it doesn’t mean 48 more acres of parking lot. Surely there’s a better use available than that. Swamplot has more.

Astroworld empty lot update

Last week, we got word that the old Astroworld site, which has been empty since the last of the old rides were auctioned off in January of 2006, has a new owner – it had previously changed hands back in 2007 – and the Chron’s Nancy Sarnoff spoke to the new owners about their plans for the site.

It’s Mallick’s first major investment in Houston. The boutique real estate firm developed the Horseshoe Bay Resort Marriott in the Hill Country and has been involved in public/private inner-city redevelopments in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

“We feel like Houston is probably one of the stronger economies in Texas right now,” Mallick said.

The calls he’s received since buying the property are proof that others agree.

It leaves open the chance that something could happen to the property sooner rather than later.

“Given the tidal wave of phone calls I’ve received since we purchased it, I really don’t know at this point,” Mallick said. “There’s a huge amount of interest in the entire tract and portions of the tract.”

Before anyone gets too excited about that, here are a couple of points of comparison. The Robinson Warehouse site has been fallow since January of 2007. Unlike the Astroworld land, its owner (at the time, at least – I have no idea if it’s the same folks or not) had a specific plan for the land, and seemed to be raring to go on it. It hasn’t happened, that’s all I know. Also at that time, the old Stables Restaurant was torn down, with the land underneath it being acquired by a group that now owned a “crucial one-acre parcel in the Med Center area”. They didn’t have any specific project in mind, as far as I knew, however, and as with the Robinson Warehouse site, it’s still dormant today. Point being, don’t be surprised if a couple of years from now you read another story about another sale of the Astroworld site to another real estate group, with nothing else to indicate that something will finally be built there.