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demolition

Big week for the Dome

This week things start to get real for the Astrodome.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Monday is an important deadline for those who are determined to save the historic Astrodome, as private firms turn in renovation proposals to the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp.

But the agency that oversees Harris County-owned Reliant Park is also crafting its own plan, possibly a new one, which Executive Director Willie Loston said will be revealed to the board of directors at a meeting on June 19.

“Even if we get a privately funded proposal that meets all the requirements, we’re still going to do a public recommendation as well,” Loston said.

He would not describe the public plan, or say whether it is different from a half-billion dollar proposal the agency recommended to Harris County Commissioners Court last summer. That plan would have renovated the Astrodome and replaced Reliant Arena.

Whatever plan the agency comes up with will go to county commissioners – along with private proposals – on June 25.

County officials have said a “public option,” so called because it would be paid for using tax dollars, could end up on the ballot this November.

In other words, the most recent What To Do With The Dome report, which was put together last year at this time and then put aside by Commissioners Court, is being revived by the HCSCC as a plan for Commissioners Court to consider. The three options presented were to renovate the Dome as a more modern sports arena for $270 million; do the same but also tear down Reliant Arena and replace it with a less-grody 10,000 seat arena for smaller events, for $385 million; and tear the Dome down, for $64 million. Unless prices have gone up, calling this a “half-billion dollar proposal” is therefore a bit of an overbid. Well, I suppose the HCSCC could have spiced it up some since last year, and thus driven up the price tag. We’ll know soon enough.

The rest of the story is about some of the private proposals that are in circulation – Astrodome Tomorrow, Ryan Slattery’s park proposal, and one I hadn’t heard of before to turn the Dome into a business incubator. All private proposals need to have financing lined up in order to be considered by Commissioners Court. That brings up a point that I don’t think has been sufficiently clarified. Any vote in November would be about a public proposal – that is, a proposal to spend public money, presumably via a bond issue – and it has to be a straight yes-or-no vote, so if the public/bond proposal fails, the Dome is doomed to demolition. What that says to me is that private proposals will be considered first, and if one or more of them are considered acceptable to Commissioners Court, then they will choose among those proposals, and that’s what will go forward. The only circumstance under which there will be a vote is if there are no acceptable – i.e., adequately financed – private proposals. If you’re rooting for the Dome to be preserved, you want a private proposal to go forward so that you don’t have to sweat out the result of an election.

The fault lies not with Commissioners Court

Chron columnist Ken Hoffman fired a shot in his Sunday column.

What to do with the Astrodome? It’s had its day. Let it go before it becomes even more of an embarrassing money pit. Dump the Dome!

M. Meagher, Houston

I figured out why the Astrodome is just sitting there falling into disrepair – because the ones who are making all of the decisions on the fate of the Dome are all men – and men can’t throw anything away!

Judy Koch, Houston

What’s wrong with making the Astrodome into an amusement park? Everyone misses AstroWorld, so why not combine the two venues? With all the young and inventive minds we have here in Houston, I know it would be great!

Laura Knowles, Houston

Seen any unicorns lately? Stop expecting the politicians in charge to do anything with the Dome. They will let it rot there, burning millions of dollars each year. They don’t care. They’re political cowards. I dare them to take action on improving or renovating or removing the Dome.

And in short order, fire was returned.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett responded to my note last week calling county officials “political cowards” for allowing the Astrodome to rot and become an eyesore burden on taxpayers.

Emmett wrote: “We have set a deadline – June 10 – for all of those with ideas for the Dome to come forward with the finances to support their ideas. If none have finances, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. is to present their suggestion for the future of the Dome on June 25. I wish you had taken the opportunity to report what is actually happening rather than just calling us names.”

I have to go easy here, because Emmett is one of our most effective officials – and I bump into him at Bubbles Car Wash. But give me a break. You’re just getting around to this now? Architects began work on Reliant Stadium in 1997. Groundbreaking took place on March 9, 2000. The Astros moved to Minute Maid Park later that month. That was more than 13 years ago. County officials have done nothing since then to renovate the Astrodome, find another use for it or tear the sucker down. Emmett has been Harris County judge since 2007.

The county spends more than $1.5 million a year just on insurance, maintenance, security and utilities at the Dome, which has become a moldy, unusable, condemned home for rats … and the cats who love them. The domed money pit doesn’t have an occupancy permit. In its present condition, it is good for absolutely nothing.

County officials have held meeting after meeting to discuss the Astrodome, but nothing ever gets done. Now two more meetings are scheduled. Whoopee. County officials are like someone who throws a baby in the river, jumps in and saves the baby … and wants a medal. You caused this problem by doing nothing for the past 13 years. You want a medal for having more meetings? Don’t worry about me calling you a political coward. Do something heroic.

OK, hold it right there. The problem with the lack of action on the Astrodome has nothing to do with indecisiveness or an absence of fortitude. It has everything to do with what We The People want, because for the last dozen years or so that’s what Commissioners Court has been trying to provide. If all that was needed was for a politician to Make The Tough Decisions, then the Dome would have been torn down about five minutes after the crowd dispersed from the last Rodeo event was held there. We’ve already established that demolition has always been the fate of unused sports venues, and let’s face it, that’s how we roll around here. Tear it down and figure out the details later – it’s much easier to find a use for an empty lot than for an empty building.

The problem is that We The People have made it abundantly clear to our elected leaders that we do NOT want the Dome torn down. It’s an important piece of Houston history, and many folks have very fond memories of seeing Jose Cruz or Earl Campbell there, and so we want someone to Do Something and transform the Dome into something else so that we can continue to use it or just look at it and revel in all those nice memories. Unfortunately, it will cost a crapload of money to rebirth the Dome as one of those things that people like to suggest it be used for. So far, no one has figured out a way to finance any of these visions, and the county – which is still paying off the debt from the Dome’s last renovations, remember, in addition to the debt from all the shiny new stadia that we have – is understandably reluctant to float a ginormous bond issue on speculation. I for one have a hard time blaming them for that.

And so the only viable course has been to do nothing, funding a few feasibility studies every now and then on the odd chance that you might strike gold, and hope that sooner or later someone will get one of those crazy ideas financed, or less likely that popular opinion will shift and people will come to accept that maybe the Dome will have to go. That appears to be what is happening now, with an assist (or a shove, if you prefer) from the Rodeo and the Texans. We’re about to see what out choices are, and it will be up to us – as it has been all along – to decide what to do.

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.

Does the Super Bowl doom the Dome?

The Texican ponders what the announcement about Houston landing Super Bowl LI means for everyone’s favorite unused arena.

At long last, is this the end?

So what does this mean for our Dome?

A parking garage would be an ignoble end for the Dome, though I am sure many would settle for parking somewhere in the former lodge section if it meant they wouldn’t need to watch pieces of it be hauled down 610 on the backs of flatbed trucks.

Tacking on millions upon millions of dollars onto what will already be an expensive enterprise such as a Super Bowl just isn’t feasible, or even sane, in order to keep the Dome alive and kicking. Can you imagine the thing still sitting there as it is in 2017 during that big game? People will start thinking it an art installation.

Wait, that could work….

Right now would be the time for everyone with those great open-air ideas for the Dome to step forward and begin shouting about your grand schemes. I am rooting for Ryan Slattery myself. Keep reminding the Harris County Sports and Convention people that your plan is worthy.

Slattery’s vision of skeletonizing the Dome for a pavilion concept is exciting, and you make use of the structure without completely demolishing history.

But then there are the rubs.

RodeoHouston needs more space, and they have said as much in the press. The Dome sits like a tumor inside the rodeo festivities, making people have to walk around the building to get to more places to spend money. And people in Houston do not like walking a few extra yards to spend that money.

The Houston Texans wouldn’t balk at having more space. As it is on game days, their fan parties have to line up next to the Dome, and the Dome somehow angers you more just looking at it after a tough loss.

Even as an unrepentant Domer, a person who collects anything I can get my hands on related to the building, I still see the thing being torn down piece by piece in the next few years though, if Slattery’s plan or that of others is not enacted.

Look, I know I didn’t grow up here and thus don’t have the emotional attachment to the Dome that folks like The Texican have. I get that people love the old behemoth, which was the first of its kind, and want to preserve it, which is a strange sentiment in a town like Houston. It’s just that there’s no precedent for doing anything other than applying the wrecking ball. I mean, they tore down Yankee Stadium, which with all due respect has a bit more of a claim to significance than the Dome. Most of the Astros’ former colleague in the National League are playing in stadia that were built after the stadia that were built to replace their historic parks were torn down. Nobody even remembers Crosley Field, Forbes Field, or the Baker Bowl, and surely no one mourns Riverfront, Three Rivers, or Veterans stadia. The only historic venues that have been preserved are the ones that are still actively used – Fenway, Wrigley, Lambeau, Madison Square Garden. If there is a feasible and practical thing to do with the Dome then great, let’s do it. If not, then let nature take its course. I don’t see any other way.

Be that as it may, the people who helped land the Super Bowl bid say that the Dome was not and is not a factor in their thoughts or deeds.

“We had a process in place before the bid, and even after the bid, the same process applies,” said Kevin Hoffman, deputy executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation.

Nor is there an agreement – written or secret – that Houston’s selection hinged on converting the former baseball-football stadium into a parking lot, those planning Super Bowl LI and those working to save the iconic structure agreed.

“Not at all,” said Greg Ortale, bid committee member and president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We addressed the Astrodome with the NFL early on. We told them it would not be part of our bid and there was a process in place to be determined with voters voting.”

[…]

Proposing to make Super Bowl LI the longest, largest football party to date only increases pressure on local leaders to ensure the celebration is not dampened by traffic congestion and cars jousting for that last open spot.

Chris Alexander, of Astrodome Tomorrow, said that does not necessarily strengthen the arguments of those seeking to tear down the Astrodome.

Alexander, whose group wants to renovate the Dome into a high-tech entertainment and exhibition space, said their proposal includes expanding parking by building a garage on the Kirby lot.

He believes the plan for the county to review all proposals after the June 10 submission deadline, have the commissioners court choose the best option and then possibly have voters approve it clearly takes the decision out of the NFL’s control.

County Judge Ed Emmett agreed.

“It’s a totally separate question,” he said.

One we still have to come to terms with ourselves. KUHF gets some further clarity from Judge Emmett.

This is Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

“If there’s no private interest that has a reasonable financial backing, then on June 25th, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation is to present their best idea of public use of the Dome to Harris County Commissioners Court and our capital improvements planning session. From that point, it will be in the hands of County Commissioners Court.”

Emmett says the Astrodome saga will likely end at the ballot box, with local voters ultimately deciding what to do with an aging Houston icon.

“It’s very likely to require a bond election. That would be presented to the voters, but I’m told we’re not allowed to put options, so it will be a real clear, this is the best idea of what to do with the Dome. If you’re not agreeable to this, then the Dome comes down. And all of that will be occurring in the next year or two years.”

First, Commissioners Court has to decide what that one clear non-demolition option is. I look forward to seeing the choices they will have for review. Campos has more.

So long, Skylane Apartments

This is happening in my neighborhood, and it’s already generated a lot of interest from the locals.

Elan Heights, from Swamplot

The aging Skylane Central apartments, perched near the entrance of the Woodland Heights neighborhood, are headed for demolition as a developer makes plans to replace the building with an upscale rental complex.

Charleston, S.C.-based Greystar is under contract to purchase the property, a low-rise complex built in 1960. Less than two acres, the site is just north of Interstate 10, off the Taylor Street bridge and across from White Oak Bayou.

The sale is expected to close in September, said Trent Conner, managing director of Greystar in Houston.

The project is the latest example of the rapid redevelopment of old apartment sites in highly desirable areas close to downtown.

The Greystar project, called Elan Heights, is still in the planning stages, but one of the scenarios being considered is an eight-story building with around 250 apartments and attached parking. The building would have a contemporary design encompassing an array of materials, including wood, metal panels, glass and stucco. Houston-based architecture firm Meeks & Partners is designing it.

“We’re hoping to improve the site and improve the curb appeal as you enter the Woodland Heights,” Conner said.

The new property will be an upgrade from what’s there now.

The existing apartments at 2222 White Oak have 76 units.

“I think there are some in the community that look forward to a change with the property the Skylane apartments are on,” said David Jordan, president of the Woodland Heights Civic Association.

Swamplot has the rendering you see above. The reactions I’ve seen to this in various places basically boils down to the following:

1. Happiness to see the Skylane disappear. As one Swamplot commenter notes, this also almost certainly also means the demise of the Little Buddy convenience store and the Mango Beach nightclub. Though I haven’t seen any mention of this elsewhere, I doubt the neighborhood will be sorry at that news, either.

2. Concern about the size of the proposed new building. Eight stories is pretty tall. Other than the townhomes on Usener, who as another commenter noted will likely lose their unobstructed view of downtown, there aren’t any other residences abutting this property. As such, I doubt this concern will mutate into opposition to the project.

3. Amazement that the developer could get a permit, considering that the Skylane flooded like crazy during TS Allison. I’m sure the first two or three stories of the new structure will be parking, so it’s only cars that will be at risk. I hope the future residents of this know what they’re getting into, and that their insurance is up to the task.

The emotional Dome decision

Nobody really wants to tear the Astrodome down. That in a nutshell is why the process to determine what to do with it has taken so long even though there aren’t any viable alternatives to demolition at this time.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

A failure to come up with a feasible plan with the financing to make it happen could force county officials to confront a decidedly less popular option: demolition. And that reality is emotional, rooted in the deep nostalgia for a structure hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened in 1965.

“If there were not the great sentimental attachment that we as a people have to this Dome, this discussion would have been over with years ago, period,” said Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jack Cagle. “The reason is why it’s still there is because of the love and the memories.”

[…]

Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 is home to the Reliant, said in an interview last month he is “very” reluctant to tear down the 48-year-old stadium, which housed the Oilers and the Astros, as well as Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo events and Hurricane Katrina evacuees, before the city deemed it unfit for occupancy in 2009.

“I’m one of those hesitant ones,” Lee said. “The easiest thing to do is to tear it down.”

Lee disputes that it definitely would be the cheapest option, though, because of the debt still owed on the Dome. According to the county budget office, that amount is now less than $9 million; payments are made with hotel occupancy taxes rather than property tax revenues.

On Tuesday, Lee threw his support behind a group that said it is planning to raise as much as $500,000 to pressure wash the Dome in an effort to deter demolition.

“It’s less likely to happen if we spruce up the building,” Chris Alexander, project director of Astrodome Tomorrow, told Commissioners Court.

Here’s Astrodome Tomorrow, and here’s their master plan:

The ASTRODOME*TOMORROW Master Plan integrates an ambient, immersive orbital experience inside the Astrodome, solar panels on the roof, a surrounding 90-acre rooftop green park above parking, a new arena, and a monorail linking all the amenities to off-site parking.

We propose to create a beautiful, green, safe destination attraction and park where civic culture and enterprise will thrive. The dome we envision will offer a variety of tenant spaces, including museum, institute, office, studio, retail, restaurant, and entertainment opportunities.

Taken together, the redesign is intended to serve its surrounding neighborhood, the larger Houston area and tourists from around the world. It envisions collaborative contribution from segments of the entertainment industry, NASA and private space launch companies, the green/sustainable urban design community, and the urban garden movement. It is intended for night and day use, and it emphasizes fitness and active recreation.

I have no idea how feasible any of that is, but here’s their Facebook page if you like the sound of it. Personally, I’m a bit concerned about how much water would be needed to pressure wash the Dome, given that we’re still in drought conditions. But I suppose that if we are going to do something other than knock it down, sprucing up the look of the place is where to begin.

Back to the Chron:

County Judge Ed Emmett last week said other options need to be explored before resorting to demolition, noting that most people he asks want to find a way to save the aging facility. He said he hopes to have town hall meetings so the public can weigh in on the issue.

“It is an option, but at this point I think we need to explore what are the options for keeping it so that it’s usable,” Emmett said, noting that he thinks the public would support a good reuse proposal and would “like to keep the icon that is the Dome.”

Edgardo Colon, chairman of the Sports Corporation board of directors, said the board would recommend demolition only if “the alternative we propose is turned down or if we don’t find any alternative at all.”

[…]

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Steve Radack, who said he sees the fate of the Dome as a financial rather than emotional issue, has asked the county’s Public Infrastructure Department to look into the feasibility of creating a lake, or large detention pond, if the dome is demolished. Radack said it could solve flooding problems in the area, including the Medical Center, and eliminate the county’s obligation to pay the city of Houston’s drainage fees, as well as, perhaps, provide an incentive for the city to pitch in on demolition costs.

“It could serve as an oasis in the middle of a massive concrete asphalt area,” Radack said. The idea would be “an important thing to study if the Dome goes down.”

This is not the first time Commissioner Radack has proposed building a lake, though this is a more urban location than before. As we know, the HCSCC has approved a resolution calling for Commissioners Court to approve a demolition plan if they can’t come up with something else. Clearly, there’s no shortage of ideas for what to do, it’s just a matter of coming up with a way to pay for them, preferably with private dollars. The question is what will evoke the stronger feelings – tearing it down, or finding public money to do something else with it if no private plan is deemed viable.

Astrodome anti-climax

That’s it?!?!?!?

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

The Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. board of directors approved a resolution Wednesday calling for staff to collect ideas for what to do with the vacant Reliant Astrodome between now and June 10.

The Sports Corp., the agency that manages Reliant Park, would analyze any proposals its receives before bringing them to Harris County Commissioners Court on June 25.

The court has the final say on what should be done with the aging stadium, on which the county still owes about $30 million. The time frame set by the Sports Corp. is aligned with the court’s scheduled consideration of the county’s capital projects plan on June 25.

Seriously? We’ve been talking about this for over five years, and there have been more what-to-do-with-the-Dome studies than I can count. How is it that the HCSCC doesn’t already have a firm idea of what’s practical or not?

From KTRK:

“We have had people approaching us, asking us questions and they want to sit down and talk to us about the idea, so that way we can evaluated them and make a decision,” said Edgar Colon with the HCSCC.

Turning it into a parking lot has been suggested by the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo as well as the Houston Texans, who play in nearby Reliant Stadium. Their estimated cost was around $30 million and no funding source was named.

Now the Sports and Convention Corporation says it would cost more like $50 million, and says it is weighing a wide variety of ideas from turning into a plaza to preserving it.

“It is not that we are solely considering demolition of the Astrodome. We are considering that as one of the possibilities, one of the alternatives, among six, seven or eight that we are considering,” Colon said.

Engaging the public is never a bad idea, but what are the odds someone will have an idea that hasn’t already been proposed? Make a decision about what options are the most viable and send them to Commissioners Court already. Sheesh.

UPDATE: More from Hair Balls.

According to the paperwork passed about after today’s meeting, it appears that the HCSCC has given private entities until June 10th to submit their proposals for turning the Dome into a hotel, a ski-jump facility, a coliseum of Roman re-enactors, or any of the thoroughly bottom-dollar approaches those behind the plans have concocted. After conducting feasibility studies — have to make sure the money’s backing the plans — HCSCC will then pass the ideas along to the Commissioners Court for discussion at the June 25th Capital Improvements Program hearing.

If they so deem, the HCSCC “may also recommend one of more public purpose plans” to suit the Dome’s transformation. While there’s no guarantee that a public option will be on the table for the June 25th hearing, it seems unlikely that a location that’s gained as much sense of public ownership as any building in Houston would come to a final vote without a potential for communal ownership.

Of course, all of this could end up being moot, as explained in the HCSCC’s resolution’s final point. “If a referendum vote fails or is not ordered, the HCSCC respectfully requests that the Commissioners Court directs HCSCC to prepare a plan to decommission and subsequently demolish the Reliant Astrodome.” The threat of demolition, of another patch of pavement and parking, hangs behind the forthcoming decision, whichever form it may take.

So if you have an idea, go ahead and let HCSCC know about it by June 10.

A STEM vision for the Astrodome

Tory Gattis has an idea for what to do with the Astrodome.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Where can America’s kids go to be inspired toward careers in our country’s most crucial need: science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM)? Something far beyond their little local science or children’s museum?

Houston could be that city, building not only on our energy, chemical, aerospace and biomedical industries, but also on our top-rated and very popular existing STEM museums like Space Center Houston, The Museum of Natural Science, The Health Museum, The Children’s Museum, Moody Gardens and The George Observatory. But we really need one additional anchor “mega-attraction” that will give us critical mass and undisputed STEM leadership. That flagship would be the National Museum of Technology and Innovation, the world’s largest engineering and technology museum – something in the class of D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum (the second-most popular museum in the world), Germany’s Deutsches Museum, San Francisco’s Exploratorium or Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. It could even be one of the Smithsonian’s network of national museums, which have started to move out beyond Washington, D.C., like Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York and the Smithsonian affiliate, National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Penn.

Think of it as Houston’s version of Paris’ Louvre or London’s British Museum. And with the right design, it could attract STEM-related academic and commercial conferences from around the world to Houston (imagine a Davos of STEM).

By showing students stories of the great historical innovators who invented technology to address civilization’s problems, we can inspire America’s – and especially Houston’s – youth into STEM careers. They can see how they could become the next Edison, Bell, Ford, Gates, Jobs or Musk. But this institution would not just look backward at history. It would inspire kids into STEM fields by framing the great challenges of the present and future, such as the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering by the National Academy of Engineering, including limitless fusion energy, health informatics, better medicines, artificial intelligence, carbon sequestration, preventing nuclear terror, securing cyberspace, advancing personalized eLearning and more.

Where can Houston find a grand structure to house such a grand institution? Yes, the Astrodome.

The problem with most of the Astrodome proposals so far is their isolation from a bigger civic vision. If a purely for-profit enterprise were feasible, it would have happened by now. Houston’s philanthropic community needs to be inspired to invest in the future of the Astrodome (in partnership with Harris County).

[…]

County officials have already stated a STEM museum is one of the best ideas they’ve been presented for repurposing the Astrodome, but they want to see philanthropic backing. The Getty Trust stepped up to build the spectacular $1.3 billion Getty Center in Los Angeles. Ross Perot’s family donated $50 million to kick off a successful $185 million campaign to build the stunning new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. Bernard Marcus, founder of Home Depot, donated $250 million to build the world’s largest aquarium in Atlanta. Does Houston have such a visionary leader?

We certainly have no shortage of people who could do this. The tricky part is getting one of them on board with a vision like what Tory outlines. It’s obviously a massive commitment, and you still have to find a way to bring that vision to reality. It’s also not certain that a for-profit enterprise isn’t feasible, since the discussion about the Dome’s fate didn’t really begin until after the economic downturn of 2008. However, if a commercial project is not worth doing now, it likely will never be. Any billionaires out there want to take a crack at this?

Meanwhile, today is the day that the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation votes on what it wants to recommend to Harris County to do about the Dome. Here are some more details about what they might have in mind.

Officials on Monday said it does not involve a specific project or proposal for what to do with the empty stadium, but rather a timeline for making a decision.

“This vote is not project specific or project related,” said Willie Loston, the agency’s executive director.

Loston said they have “established a timeline for within which any number of decisions could be made” and that “All the options are still there, but we’ve laid out a timeline for that to basically come to a head.”

What kind of timeline?

Loston declined to specify, saying only that “it’s probably a good time to try and bring this debate to an end” with the city bidding to host the Super Bowl in 2017 and the county receiving pressure from the Houston Texans and Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo to do something with the decaying structure well before then or risk losing out.

A spokesman for Harris County Judget Ed Emmett, noting that you never know what’s going to happen until it happens, said they are expecting a vote on a timetable that will result in the Sports Corps. essentially shoving the ticking clock into the hands of the Harris County Commissioners Court this summer.

Joe Stinebaker said the timetable is June, when the county adopts its capital projects plan, meaning the Sports Corps. would gather and analyze proposals on what to do with the dome and present the best ones to commissioners court late that month.

We’ll know soon enough what they have up their sleeves. Before we get to that, however, Hair Balls notes that the original report of forthcoming action by the HCSCC wasn’t quite accurate.

“[The Chronicle’s report] was just wrong,” Kevin Hoffman, HCSCC’s deputy executive director, told Hair Balls. “There’s a lot of speculation in the community regarding it, but we’ve been very careful and diligent in trying to get accurate information out.”

Joe Stinebaker, the director of communications in the Harris County judge’s office, was at least a bit softer in his judgment of the original story

“[They] got it kind of wrong,” Stinebaker told Hair Balls.

While we wait for a retraction — which, hey, might not come; that’s the blessing of anonymous sourcing — we’ll try to detail for you what’s actually going on with the HCSCC this week. The board will indeed meet this week, coming together to decide the next step on potential movement on the Dome. But there’s no “unspecified plan” that the public has thus far been kept in the dark about. Rather, according to Hoffman, the board will be looking for a resolution on a time-frame to have a set of plans to move to the Commissioners Court by June 25th, when the court will hold its annual Capital Improvements hearing.

“This is just the beginning of process — the process is going to be moving towards having something to present the Commissioners Court” by June 25th, Hoffman said. “We want to have the opportunity to put something before them, something well-thought-out that can either address a public purpose or have some private financing associated [with] the resolution.”

While Hoffman did say that there would be a vetting process involved with certain proposals — they’re not simply going to shunt every idea directly to the court — Stinebaker confirmed that he believed HCSCC would present both private and public proposals on June 25th.

“I think it’s a fairly legitimate expectation … that they’re going to evaluate and determine feasibility of privately financed proposals — to build hotels, to build indoor ski slopes — and they’ll say by June 25th, they’ll have everyone’s stuff on record,” Stinebaker said. “They’re also going to collate public use recommendations, how county taxpayers could pay to convert it into an open-air park, or an indoor festival venue. Or, No. 3 — they could say that it could be torn down.”

And the reason why it’s all happening now is so that there could be a ballot item this November to finalize the plan and have the community ratify it, whatever it may be. That’s faster than what we had heard before, which suggested HCSCC would make its recommendation by the end of this year, for a vote sometime in 2014. Maybe the county is taking the concerns about the Super Bowl bid more seriously. Speaking of which, and just because it amused me, I want to note that former Secretary of State James Baker has been told by the NFL that he can’t participate in the city’s presentation to the owners because he’s a celebrity and his presence might make them too starry-eyed to be able to objectively evaluate the city’s bid for Super Bowl LI. Or something like that. Good thing we weren’t planning to send Beyonce to make our case, I guess.

UPDATE: If you can get past the embarrassing typo in the headline, this Chron editorial calls for instant runoff voting to determine the Dome’s fate. I’m not sure that would provide more political cover for whatever gets decided than a “normal” vote would, but I do agree that this isn’t a straight-up yes or no question. It’s a choice between renovation (plan to be determined), demolition, and going back to the drawing board if neither the recommended renovation plan nor demolition is seen as acceptable. As such, a different approach to the referendum may be the best way to go about it.

Someone will do something sort of soon about the Dome

I can’t be more specific than that.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

While Houston’s Super Bowl Host Committee continues its bid to win the vote for Super Bowl LI, the next step in the possible demolition of the Astrodome could be taken next week by the board of directors of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation.

The HCSCC presides over Reliant Park, including Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome. The board of directors is expected to vote on an unspecified plan concerning what to do with the Astrodome, according to a person familiar with the process.

If the board approves the plan, the next step is for it to go before the Harris County Commissioner Court. If county commissioners give their approval, the plan could eventually be voted on by the public.

I must confess, I didn’t realize that the HCSCC played an active role in determining the Dome’s future – I knew they did all those studies about what to do with the Dome, but I thought it was all on Commissioner’s Court to make the decisions. I guess it makes sense that the HCSCC would offer a recommendation as well, it’s just that they hadn’t done so on any of the previous What To Do With The Dome exercises. So, we don’t know what plan they might be recommending, or even what plans are under consideration for recommending, we don’t know who says they’ll be taking this action, and of course we don’t know when Commissioners Court might take action. I think that about covers it.

UPDATE: The Houston Business Journal fills in a tantalizing detail:

[HCSCC] is scheduled to hold a board meeting on April 17. The agenda includes “(d)iscussion and possible action to approve a resolution regarding the future of the Reliant Astrodome” and “(d)iscussion of a nondisclosure agreement with the University of Southern California regarding a potential project related to the Reliant Astrodome.”

I can’t wait to see what USC has in mind for the Dome.

The Chron would like someone to do something about the Dome

Something other than turning it into a parking lot, please.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Whatever we do with the former Astrodome location should bolster Reliant Stadium’s capability to host events and make the overall complex a more attractive location during bidding processes.

For inspiration, county officials should look north along the light rail line to downtown’s Discovery Green. During the NBA All-Star Game, that urban park hosted media events and fan spectacles that helped make the weekend such a success. And George R. Brown conventioneers are a common sight at Discovery Green’s grassy fields. If Reliant hosts a convention, or the Summer X Games, or a Super Bowl, fans and media folk could use a go-to gathering place that is more than a temporary installation on a concrete field that seems to stretch to the horizon.

A post-Dome park could even implement parts of the once-great stadium in its design – bleachers as park benches, a few spots of classic AstroTurf, some remaining interlaced concrete facade as a sunshade. A University of Houston graduate student in architecture has even proposed a plan to strip the Dome down to its skeleton and let the metal husk stand over a park like a Houston-style Eiffel Tower.

See here for more about that UH student’s suggestion. I like the idea of a park, but I’m not sure how much use it would get being located between Reliant Stadium and Loop 610. I guess you could say the same kind of thing about Memorial Park, and that’s worked out pretty well for us. Just don’t rush Commissioners Court, they’ll get to it when they get to it.

Are we getting close to a Dome decision?

Maybe by the end of the year. But don’t rush County Judge Ed Emmett, who has a few things to say about that study that claimed it would be cheaper than originally reported to demolish the Astrodome.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett put that study with all the ones that have been done over the past decade.

“We’re far from making that decision. Commissioner’s Court has to decide what to do with the Dome, and we are all pretty much chewing on the (Harris County) Sports and Convention Corporation saying, ‘Give us the best ideas because we do have to move forward.’ But if the decision were to be made that the Dome would somehow come down, we’d have to go out for bids. So I mean, a study doesn’t do us any good on that.”

If anything, the latest study has renewed interest in transforming the Dome, but he says the lingering question remains:

“What’s the revenue stream that’s gonna support whatever the idea is and that’s what Commissioner’s Court’s gonna have to decide. Once we decide what to do with the Astrodome, the Harris County Domed Stadium, then you start asking the question: How much will it cost and who’s gonna pay for it? And if it involves taxpayer dollars, then the taxpayers are gonna get to have a say on that.”

Emmett says he expects the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation to contribute to the discussion.

“They know that they’re kind of under the gun to come up with a suggestion as to what the best idea is, and my guess is that they’ll bring options to Commissioner’s Court and Commissioner’s Court will vote.”

There’s audio at the link above. Judge Emmett is hoping that the Sports & Convention folks can present something by the end of the year, in which case we the taxpayers get to have our say on it in 2014. I can hardly wait. Texas Leftist has more.

County disputes cheaper Dome demolition price tag

It’s on.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County officials on Thursday disputed an estimate released this week showing it would cost $29 million to implode the vacant Reliant Astrodome and build a 1,600-space parking lot in two and a half years.

The figure, calculated by local firms Linbeck Construction and Walter P. Moore and Associates after a three-month study commissioned by the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, is less than half the estimated price tag released last year by consultants hired by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., the county agency that runs Reliant Park.

During a media tour of the 48-year-old condemned facility on Thursday, Sports Corp. Chairman Edgar Colon suggested that the latest estimate did not take into account all the costs that would be incurred in blowing up the behemoth structure, on which the county still owes some $30 million in construction debt but has sat vacant since 2000 when the Houston Astros moved to Minute Maid Park downtown.

“There’s more to it than just $29 million,” Colon said. “You have to look through it, the things that they exclude explicitly. I’m not challenging the credibility of their experts, I’m just saying that we have to have our own experts look at those numbers.”

Linbeck Vice President John Go said the firms stand by the findings of the study and the price tag.

“The Houston Texans and the Rodeo asked us to develop a methodology and a report that will stand up against questions because they knew that someone might question it,” Go said, noting that Walter P. Moore was the structural engineer when the stadium was built in the mid-1960s and again when it was expanded in 1989.

I rather doubt there’s anything seriously wrong with the methodology used in this estimate. Even County Judge Ed Emmett admitted after the Rodeo/Texans report came out that the previous estimate of demolition costs by the county had been too high. His complaint was that the report didn’t present any other options for what to do with the Dome, and that until the question of what to do with it is settled it’s premature to talk about demolition. When might we get a decision from Comissioner’s Court about what to do?

Pressed by reporters, Colon declined to give a firm time line for when the agency may bring a proposal to commissioners but said he hopes it does not take more than five years.

Colon said part of the reason the decision has been delayed is that interest from developers in rehabilitating the site dropped off during the recession, but he said it is increasing again with the improving economy, and the Sports Corp. is receiving and evaluating new ideas.

“What I think is that it’s in the best interest of the taxpayer to continue to explore all the options in order to make a decision,” said Colon, who brushed off concerns raised by the Texans and Rodeo that the aging, vacant Astrodome would hurt Houston’s chances of getting to host the Super Bowl in 2017.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dropped that hint about converting the Dome into parking at the NFL owners’ meeting. Commissioners Court hasn’t indicated they’re in any rush to make a decision, so I guess they’re not too concerned about that, either. All I know is that at this point we’re in agreement that demolishing the Dome won’t be that expensive. The question is what if anything are the viable alternatives to demolition. It would be nice to get some answers to that sooner rather than later. Hair Balls and Campos have more.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so expensive to demolish the Dome after all

Hey, look! It’s another What To Do With The Astrodome study! Woo hoo!

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

The Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo have commissioned a study showing it would cost $29 million to demolish the 48-year-old stadium and build a 1,600-space parking lot, less than half what consultants hired by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. estimated it would cost to tear down the defunct facility.

The most recent cost estimate to tear down the 9.14-acre structure and build a plaza in its place was $64 million, cited in a report released last year by consultants hired by the sports corporation, which runs Reliant Park. A 2010 study said demolition, asbestos removal and construction of a plaza would cost $78 million.

Rodeo Chief Operating Officer Leroy Shafer said the parties wanted to calculate a lowest-cost option to present to Harris County Commissioner’s Court.

“We’re not recommending this option over any other option, but we didn’t feel there was a viable, low-cost option and we think this will do that,” Shafer said. “We hope the commissioners find this information helpful as they evaluate options to deal with the Astrodome and move Reliant Park forward for the citizens of Harris County.”

[…]

According to an executive summary, the study offers three options for demolishing the Dome: implode it for $7.3 million; dismantle it for $11.8 million; or partially dismantle and blow up the building for $11.8 million. A separate estimate puts the cost of imploding the Dome and building a 1,600-space parking lot at $29 million.

“It is our professional opinion the Reliant Astrodome can be decommissioned and demolished safely and the site be readied for a new purpose,” local firms Linbeck Construction and Walter P. Moore and Associates wrote in a March 15 letter attached to the study.

County Judge Ed Emmett said he was “disappointed” with the study because he thought it was going to contain more extensive recommendations.

“I was hoping that this was going to be a meaningful look at alternatives, but instead this was just a pricing on tearing down the dome, and if commissioner’s court makes that decision, we’d probably do that pricing ourselves,” Emmett said, adding that the Texans “and the Livestock Show & Rodeo to a lesser extent have made it clear that they would prefer that the dome be demolished.”

While acknowledging the discussion about what to do with the dome has lasted for too long, Emmett said, “We’re not going to be rushed on it.”

Well, that much is for sure. The $64 million demolition price tag always did seem too high. I’m not crazy about putting in more parking – there has to be some better use for the land than that – especially since the extra space is really only needed a few times a year. But whether this has an effect on Houston’s bid to host Super Bowl LI or not, we do need to quit fooling around and figure this out. Forget the studies and set a deadline for redevelopment proposals – the economy is good enough now that someone ought to be able to get financing for one of the many schemes that have been floated in the past – then either pick a winner or put out bids for demolition. No one is being served by dragging this out. If nothing else, the Dome itself deserves to know what its ultimate fate will be. Swamplot has more.

No Dome referendum yet

If you’ve been waiting for a chance to vote on the fate of the Astrodome, you’ll just have to keep waiting.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County officials unveiled options for the future of the long-vacant Astrodome last summer, with some members of Commissioners Court saying voters might be presented with a bond referendum last November, or perhaps this May, to fix it.

November is long gone, however, and there will be no vote in May either, with the deadline to present a ballot item passing today with no action from Commissioners Court. County officials have said voters would need a say because the price tag on any renovation plan would require selling bonds.

[…]

Texans owner Bob McNair suggested a plan for the Dome might be nice when he named former Secretary of State James Baker III to head the city’s Super Bowl bid committee last month, telling the Associated Press, “We should just do everything we can to make our bid as attractive as possible, and that includes making Reliant Park as attractive as possible.”

Commissioners acknowledge they’re no closer to placing an item on the ballot, however.

“We have waited for ideas for years and years on the Dome. It wouldn’t surprise me if we wait years and years more before something happens,” Commissioner Steve Radack said.

“I’m not in a huge rush because I don’t think we have the ideas and enough accurate information right now to really be able to present something to the voters.”

Radack said even if voters approved bonds for a Dome fix he wouldn’t support selling them now because doing so would force a tax increase.

See here and here for the previous updates, and here for some of the things people want to see done with the Dome. The good news is that by waiting, people have come to acknowledge that demolition may need to be an option, so a more honest conversation about what to do can be had. It’s also the case that with the economy in better shape there are more potentially viable proposals out there to do some kind of renovation/transformation, so it’s more realistic to hope for an alternative to demolition. Of course, in the meantime we continue to pay a bunch of money each year to maintain something that isn’t being used. In any case, you can keep thinking about it for awhile longer, because Commissioners Court isn’t ready for you to vote on something yet. Hair Balls has more.

On the city bonds

Here’s an overview of the city bond issues.

The city of Houston is asking voters on Nov. 6 for permission to borrow $410 million to shore up its parks, police stations, libraries, other government buildings and substandard housing.

Propositions A, B, C, D and E for the most part are what Mayor Annise Parker calls “housekeeping” the city does every four to six years to add to, expand, renovate or repair city buildings and other public property. None of them requires a tax increase to pay principal and interest that over decades could mount to an estimated $719 million.

However, the propositions draw voters into a debate over city debt that has largely been confined to the City Council table and a task force that last year examined the city’s long-term finances.

The borrowing is the lowest amount the city has asked the voters for in 30 years. In 2006, the ask was $625 million. Without the new bond measure, Parker explained, city government won’t be able to carry out its five-year plan to continue to fix leaky roofs, repair fire station foundations, renovate old libraries, repair swimming pools and demolish abandoned apartment buildings.

“It’s like a pre-qualification for a mortgage. That’s basic. We’re going to the voters and saying, ‘Can we borrow money in these categories?’ ” Parker said.

Opponents of the measures say it’s more like continuing a spending binge with a credit card.

As Mayor Parker said when I interviewed her about the bonds, for the most part these are projects that went through the CIP process and were approved by Council. This is how the city pays for projects like these – it’s how nearly every entity pays for capital improvement projects, since it’s exceedingly impractical to pay for them out of cash. There’s really nothing remarkable here, save perhaps for the extra dollops of debt hysteria.

Two more things to note. One is that Proposition E, which is listed on the ballot as being about “affordable housing efforts”, is really about paying for the demolition of derelict properties so that some better use can be made of the land. The other is that CM Oliver Pennington is quoted in the story as being a supporter of the propositions, he just thinks the city should have asked to borrow less than $410 million for them. This make him more than a supporter of the parks bond. Not that it really matters, I just like to nitpick.

More reactions to the new Astrodome report

Texans owner Bob McNair says “Sure, that’s nice and all, but don’t you forget about me.”

This would be cheaper to renovate

“Our first concern is Reliant Stadium,” McNair said Thursday. “We want to make sure we’ve got adequate funds there for repairs, replacement and improvements, and right now we don’t have ade-quate funds. I’d like to see that taken care of first.”

McNair claimed only $2.5 million is going into the stadium’s upkeep fund when $8 million is needed, explaining that the economic downturn since 2008 has significantly cut into tax revenues that would have been earmarked for stadium repairs, replacement parts and upgrades.

“(Commissioners) court has been very supportive,” said McNair, who watched the Texans’ OTA practice with Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, on whose turf the Reliant complex sits. “It’s just now being brought to their attention. They’re contractually obligated to (maintain the stadium), but with the recession and the difference in tax receipts that were anticipated, there hasn’t been as much money available. (The Texans) and the rodeo have helped, and we’ll continue to do that. But it’s something that needs to be addressed long term.

“Compared to the other issues that we’re looking at, it’s a drop in the bucket. I think it needs to be addressed first.”

He is of course comparing costs with that of the proposed Astrodome/Reliant Arena renovation, which would almost certainly require a tax increase to pay for.

Bill Jackson, the county’s chief budget officer, said such a large bond issue likely would require a tax hike or deep budget cuts, particularly given other projects for which the county will need to sell bonds, such as a forensic sciences facility.

Financing $500 million over 30 years at 5 percent interest would require $28 million annually, Jackson said. For comparison, $28 million covers the annual costs for all but seven of the county’s dozens of departments, not counting the commissioners.

“It would be very difficult with everything we that have on our plate right now” to issue $500 million in bonds without a tax hike, Jackson said. “It’s a matter of setting priorities and figuring that out.”

A one-cent tax increase would generate about $26 million a year, Jackson said. That increase would raise the taxes on a $200,000 home by $16 annually, assuming the owner had a homestead exemption.

Yes, let’s talk priorities. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of a tax increase. I’ve argued for some time now that Harris County should have considered at least rolling back the property tax cut they made a few years back to avoid or at least reduce the need for layoffs during the downturn. This project, in whatever form, would not be where I would want to see extra revenues go. It’s not even close. If it came up for a vote, I would vote against it. I agree with Judge Emmett here:

“The way it was trotted out, we’re going to re-purpose the Dome and we’re going to replace the arena with a new building,” Emmett said. “If we’re doing that, why don’t we use the Dome for the purposes the arena was being used for? Because that would obviously cost less.”

Yes. What exactly would a renovated Dome and/or Reliant Arena actually be used for? More to the point, what use could one or the other have that isn’t currently being addressed by some other facility? And even if there is some identifiable unfulfilled need, why would we need both of them for it? I touched on that yesterday, and John Royal asks as well.

Essentially they want to raise the floor and turn the Dome into a small venue for football, soccer, hockey, basketball, and concerts. But that’s also what they want to do with Reliant Arena. And what the consultants want to do with the Dome is what is supposed to be done with that new taxpayer-funded paradise the Dynamo is playing in. You know, that new small stadium meant for hosting soccer, football, and concerts. And one of the purposes for renovating Hofheinz Pavilion, besides giving the Cougars a modern basketball facility, is using it, once again, for concerts. And I’m sure Les Alexander would love Harris County trying to steal business from his Harris County-funded arena.

Royal concludes, with a heavy heart, that it would be better to demolish the Dome and put it out of its misery. The more this all drags out, the most I think that’s where we’re headed whether we want to admit it now or not. That said, I must admit I’ve not seen many good ideas for what to do with the empty space post-demolition. Turning it into some sort of park, as Royal and others suggest, sounds nice but who would actually use it? What attractions would be there to draw people in, and who would pay to build and maintain them? The upside is that this is by far the cheaper option, even if the cost of demolition is still on the way high end compared to other stadia.

Meet the new “What To Do With The Astrodome” report

Not that much different than the old “What To Do With The Astrodome” report.

Not actual size

The Astrodome, a now-empty showplace that has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, should be turned into a multipurpose facility that could spark fresh interest in the city of Houston, a group of consultants recommended Wednesday.

The $270 million option was one of four considered by consultants led by Dallas-based CSL. The other options included leaving the dome alone, demolishing it and building an outdoor plaza, or building a massive and expensive “renaissance” complex anchored by a luxury hotel.

In a presentation to Harris County’s sports and convention agency, the consultants said the multipurpose option could turn Houston into a popular destination for special events and national trade shows. The plan would preserve the iconic structure’s outer shell.

Bill Rhoda, CSL’s president, said the multipurpose facility proposal “recognizes the magnitude of potential opportunities offered by this one-of-a-kind structure.”

The reconfigured dome would have more than 300,000 square feet available for trade shows, exhibitions and various sporting events, including basketball and football games.

Rhoda said the multipurpose facility could be finished by 2016, when nearby Reliant Stadium hosts the Final Four in men’s basketball, and help make Houston more attractive for any bid to host the 2017 Super Bowl at the stadium. Rhoda also said the multipurpose facility leaves open the possibility of revisiting the renaissance option in the future.

“It provides additional flexibility for being able to attract a variety of events,” Rhoda said. “It adds the ability to move toward the Super Bowls and the Final Fours of the world, and get those events to Houston.”

The recommendation now goes to the Harris County commissioners, who can review the details at their next capital projects meeting on June 26. There is no known timeline for a decision, and the dome’s future could in theory be put before voters someday.

This is the completion of the study that was commissioned last year. You can compare it to the three options proposal from the last study. I confess, I’m a little confused by this.

While the Astrodome’s outer shell isn’t going anywhere, the inside floor would be raised to street level to create a 300,000 square foot performance area.

That means capacity will be severely decreased — 5,500 for a hockey game, 5,000 for high-school basketball tournaments and 15,500 for football, which, for the circa 1996 Oilers, would have been a badass turnout.

If the $270.3 million project gets the thumbs-up by Harris County Commissioners Court, the HCSCC board hopes to get the proposed plan on the ballot for a public vote. If passed, officials may try to lure the 2016 Final Four and the 2017 Super Bowl to the improved digs.

I’m not exactly sure how having a small-capacity sports-capable facility next door to Reliant makes it more attractive for those events. Be that as it may, there are some sporting events that would be suitable for the MiniDome.

“We would like to aggressively pursue bringing back to Houston the state high school football championships,” [HCSCC Chair Edgardo] Colon said. “This would be ideal for an event like that. (Reliant Stadium) is probably too big.”

Actually, the division title games last year at Cowboys Stadium topped out at 43,369 for the Aledo-Manvel game, so the slimmed-down Dome likely could not host the 3A, 4A or 5A division games. About 15,500 seats, however, could be sufficient to host the 2A, A or six-man games, which were attended by 5,000 to 10,000 at Cowboys Stadium last year.

There is more to this plan than just the Dome.

Colon said the consultants believe replacing Reliant Arena is a higher priority, and would allow the county to better compete for events, shows and conventions it cannot host now.

The proposed $385 million fix would demolish the arena and replace it with a performance space with up to 10,000 seats, along with 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, more ballrooms and meeting space and a 3,000-space parking garage.

The consultants’ master plan also includes room for a hotel to be financed by private investors and connected to the renovated Dome by a skybridge.

It’s too soon for me to wrap my mind around this. I mean, what could a 5,000 to 15,000 seat Astrodome do as a sports and concert venue that, say, the new Dynamo Stadium couldn’t? It’s not clear to me where this thing fits in to the scene. Steve Radack is already pooh-poohing the report, so it may just wind up in a filing cabinet next to the last one, and two years later we’ll commission another study to see if anything has changed.

One more thing:

According to the consultants, demolishing the dome would cost $64 million.

That’s slightly less than what we have heard before, but still more expensive than other recently demolished stadia. And it may yet be what finally happens. Campos has more.

Salvaging the Dome

Here’s one way to keep demolition costs down.

Not actual size

Picture a urinal in the basement of the Reliant Astrodome — a block of dusty porcelain, used by Earl Campbell or Nolan Ryan, or any other Oilers or Astros great. How much would that be worth?

A St. Louis urologist forked over $2,174 to put a urinal from the old Busch Stadium in his waiting room. A $500 urinal from Tiger Stadium reportedly is icing down drinks in a garage somewhere in Detroit. And one of the fixtures from Miami’s Orange Bowl found new life as a tap: Pull the flush handle and beer flows. Remember, “fan” is short for fanatic.

Next month, Harris County officials plan to release a study comparing the cost of demolishing the Astrodome with renovating it in several forms. The last estimate two years ago — which county officials call a conservative guess — put the cost of razing it at $78 million, not counting the $29.9 million still owed on the building.

Demolition experts have said that number sounds high. A Houston Chronicle analysis of two dozen razed stadiums found the next-highest costs were $22 million for Yankee Stadium and $17 million for Shea Stadium, both in New York.

Demolition experts also say the price of detonating the Dome would depend greatly on the cash that could be recouped by recycling it — from selling memorabilia and fixtures to salvaging the steel and grinding concrete into gravel.

“All demolitions are affected by what the price of scrap is,” said Jim Redyke of Tulsa-based Dykon Explosive Demolition Corp. “If we’re in a market condition that scrap is extremely low, then the cost for demolition goes up. But if scrap prices are high, then the guy says, ‘Well I’m going to get X amount of dollars for scrap on that.’ ”

I just want to point out again that people spent a bunch of money on Enron crap. I feel confident saying there’s more nostalgia and sentiment for the Astros and Oilers than there were for Ken Lay’s legacy. It won’t cover the cost of tearing the place down, if that’s what we ultimately choose to do, but it’ll help.

How much would it really cost to tear down the Astrodome?

Perhaps not as much as Harris Country officials have been saying.

The Harris County Domed Stadium in better times

The expected price tag to demolish the Reliant Astrodome that Harris County officials have cited in recent years far exceeds the cost of razing other stadiums across the country, including domes of comparable size.

Officials with the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. are preparing to release a study next month comparing the cost of knocking down the Dome with the price of renovating it in several forms.

Willie Loston, executive director of the Sports Corp., said the estimated cost of demolition is lower than that produced by a similar study two years ago, but declined to say the new number before members of Commissioners Court are informed.

The 2010 study estimated the cost of demolition at $78 million, including $10 million for asbestos removal and $10 million to put a “plaza” on the site after demolition. That does not include the $29.9 million the county still owes on the building, which has sat empty since the city deemed it unfit for occupancy in 2009, and has not been home to a team for more than a decade.

The priciest stadium demolition a Houston Chronicle examination found was $22 million for New York’s Yankee Stadium, which was completed in 2010.

Indianapolis’ RCA Dome cost $13 million to raze in 2008.

The Seattle Kingdome was imploded in 2000 for about $10 million, as was Giants Stadium in New Jersey, which was razed in 2010.

[…]

“Wow,” said Mike Taylor, executive director of the National Association of Demolition Contractors, when told of the estimate. “I should go back in the business if they’re going to give me $78 million to bring that down. I know my boots are somewhere.”

Mike Dokell, demolition division manager for Houston-based Cherry Demolition, and Jim Redyke, of Tulsa-based Dykon Explosive Demolition Corp., agreed.

“I think their estimate includes a lot of contingencies and a lot of worst-case scenarios and when they go out for bid they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Dokell said. “The 78 (million) number includes a lot of things a demo guy is typically not going to include.”

I don’t know if the study Loston cites is the same as the one ordered by Commissioners Court last year to ask once again the “what do we do with the Dome?” question or if it’s some other study. The 2010 study that cites a $78 million price tag is interesting because the proposals that were put forward at the time cited a figure of $128 million, while a subsequent public opinion poll put it at $100 million. You have to wonder where those other numbers came from. I have to agree with Commissioner Morman when he says that we need accurate information before making a decision about this. Maybe a lower price tag on demolition would change people’s minds and maybe it wouldn’t. But we shouldn’t use a wildly overinflated number as a reason not to do it.

RIP, Arabia Shrine Center

Swamplot noted that a demolition permit had been pulled for the Arabia Shrine Center on Braeswood near Kirby. Nancy Sarnoff tells us what is to come once the buildings have been razed.

Three years after an apartment developer bought the Arabia Shrine Center on North Braeswood, the company has started to redevelop the site.

Colorado-based Archstone said it will build 474 apartments on the property, at the northeast corner of North Braeswood and Brompton Road. The company acquired the nearly 8-acre tract in 2008 after the owners said the tax bill was too high for them to stay there.

The Arabia Shrine Center was first put up for sale four and a half years ago; that sale was finalized a year later. The property appears to have changed hands at least once more since then. It’s a good location for apartments – actually, a mixed-use development would have been nice, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards – but it’s still a shame to see that funky old building go away. That’s Houston for you.

The abandoned buildings of downtown

I thought this Chron story about the vacant buildings downtown and the nuisances they cause was useful, but it left me with one question: What, if anything, can the city do to force the issue? The city has the occasional Demolition Day, in which it tears down homes that have been deemed unsafe for habitation. I regularly get news releases from the city about the demolition of unsafe, public nuisance apartment complexes, usually as the culmination of legal action by the city against the property owner. Why don’t we ever see this happen for these downtown eyesores?

Well, obviously, it costs more to demolish a skyscraper than it does a bungalow, or an apartment complex. But by the same token, downtown real estate is valuable. I’m sure the city could figure out a way to get a third party involved to cover the cost of demolition in return for the land and a contract to Do Something with it. It may also be the case that the legal issues are more complex, and as such the city has generally avoided undertaking them. Possibly also it may be the case that the city lacks an ordinance to pursue demolition of skyscrapers. I have no idea, and unfortunately the story doesn’t say. But given that some of these buildings have been abandoned nuisances for a decade or more, you’d think there’d either be an incentive to overcome whatever obstacles exist to demolition or a reason to mention why they can’t be overcome.

Why demolishing the Dome would be so expensive

This Chron story is primarily about what a bunch of notable people would like to see happen to the Astrodome. That isn’t terribly interesting to me, but it did contain this tidbit, which answers a question I’ve wondered about and which has come up a few times in the comments here:

But the Dome is also a mess right now, full of deadly asbestos, molds, a whole geological stratum’s worth of dust and who knows what else. But that nasty stew, ironically, may be its ultimate salvation. Although they blew up Texas Stadium for about $7 million, the figure for leveling the Dome is said to be in excess of $100 million, and that gives even the most ardent Dome-sayer pause.

Why so much? Even after the asbestos is removed, the tremors caused by imploding it could damage Reliant Stadium, so a “piece by piece dismantling” will be required, explains Narendra Gosain, a senior principal with Walter P. Moore, the firm originally responsible for the Dome’s structural design. Walter P. Moore also consulted when San Antonio took apart the Hemisfair Arena, which Gosain calls a “mini-Astrodome.”

Explosives couldn’t be used on that venue, either, because of how close it stood to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

“The frame was the same, just much smaller,” Gosain said, “and it required a very slow, painstaking process.”

So there you have it. If this weren’t the case, it wouldn’t have surprised me for the Dome to have been demolished as part of the Reliant Stadium construction, or perhaps shortly afterward once Reliant fully took over Rodeo duties. But thanks to the asbestos, the Dome is still with us. And we’re still trying to figure out what to do with it.

Regent Square update

I drive down Allen Parkway several times a week, and I’ve been wondering when the Regent Square site, which has been vacant since the old Allen House was demolished in October of 2007, will begin construction. Ralph Bivins provides an update.

Developer John Darrah is the keeper of the vision. The flame still flickers. The delays have been long. Years have passed since the billion-dollar vision for Regent Square was announced. But the developer still believes these 24 acres of urban land off of Allen Parkway in the northern part of Montrose, will be the site of a phenomenal new project with high-rise condos, stores and offices.

“We’ve owned the land for 24 years and we are very much proceeding with the development,” says Darrah, vice president in charge of the project for Boston-based GID Urban Development Group, a division of the General Investment and Development Companies.

Regent Square was talked about in 2006. It was formally announced in January 2007. Construction was supposed to start in 2008 and part of it should have been finished by now.

But the recession came along. Lenders quit lending. Retailers quit expanding. And new construction projects became a rarity. So Regent Square, like many other proposed developments, was put on hold.

Darrah now says groundbreaking for the project is anticipated in 2012.

Sometimes I feel like the recession won’t be truly over in Houston until some of these longdormant projects finally get underway. Seems we’ve still got a ways to go on that.

Do we really want to save the Dome?

According to the Department of Anecdotal Evidence, we do.

Respondents to an online survey run by Reliant Park’s landlord “overwhelmingly” support saving the Astrodome, according to the official in charge of the survey.

Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, declined to release a detailed breakdown of the 5,800 votes that have been cast for one of three options for Reliant Park’s future. He said only that the combined votes for the two options that include renovations for the Astrodome outnumber those in favor of razing it.

The results, he said, “overwhelmingly show a desire to maintain the building.” Loston said the results will help shape a recommendation to Commissioners Court, which controls the fate of Reliant Park.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need some corroboration on this. I have no problem believing that there’s plenty of sentiment to save the Dome – I have some of that myself, though perhaps not as much as others – but the options for saving the Dome are kind of expensive, and all rely on public money. I don’t know how much I believe that people are really clamoring for that at this time. When there’s a single plan, and a final price tag, then we’ll get a handle on how popular the idea is. Swamplot has more.

More on the three options for the Dome

As promised last week, we now have more information on the three options for the Dome.

The Sports & Convention Corporation hosted a news conference Monday to present the broad outlines of three possible plans for the 45-year-old Astrodome and 35-year-old Reliant Arena:

Reliant Park Plaza plan: Raze the Dome for $128 million; replace Reliant Arena and make other improvements to park; build a hotel (with no public money) with as many as 1,500 rooms. Total price tag of $873 million.

Astrodome Multipurpose: Gut the Dome and add a new level of floor space, a science and technology center, a planetarium, solar panels on the roof that form a world map for $324 million to $374 million; keep other elements of plaza plan. Total price tag of $1.08 billion to $1.13 billion.

Astrodome Renaissance: Multipurpose plan plus add more Astrodome features, including conference space, a series of interactive exhibits that would allow users to simulate space travel and deep sea exploration, museums, an alternative energy center and a movie studio. The Astrodome portion would cost $588 million. Total price tag of $1.35 billion.

Mark Miller, general manager of Reliant Park, called the last option “the dream picture,” and said, “This is where we would like to go with the property.”

You can see more of the options, and give your feedback, here. There’s no mention of a privately-financed hotel there for Option 1, just green space as we originally heard. I guess once you have the green space, whatever you intend to use it for, you can wait around for a private-financing Prince Charming to come along at your leisure.

[County Judge Ed] Emmett favors minimal improvements to the Dome that would essentially convert it into an indoor fairgrounds.

“(A) middle option preserves the Dome but doesn’t lock us into a major cost item,” Emmett said. It buys time, too, for the possibility of a private developer coming along with a proposal to lease the Dome for a grander project.

That’s Option 2 on the Reliant Park webpage. I don’t quite understand the disconnect between what was presented at the press conference and what they’re actually soliciting feedback on, but this option has some appeal to me as well. Hair Balls has more, including the obligatory comments from people who don’t quite grasp the difference between city and county government, and who apparently missed the bit about these plans needing to be voted on by the public.

UPDATE: Swamplot has more.

Three options for the Dome

We’ve been talking for a long time now about what is to become of the Astrodome. Harris County officials have some possible scenarios to discuss next week as part of a master plan for Reliant Park. Like it or not, demolition is on the table.

If the Dome is demolished, it would be replaced by a park-like setting rather than parking spaces, [Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation] said. And demolition, he said, would be more complicated than it was for Texas Stadium in Irving, the Dallas Cowboys’ former stadium, which was ringed by three freeways with no other buildings nearby.

“This (the Astrodome) is in the middle of an operating complex,” Loston said. “I’ve got football games I’m getting ready for (at Reliant Stadium) in two months.”

I’ll never object to the addition of park space, but I’m wondering how much use it would get. I can see some possibilities, but I also have this vision of the place being basically abandoned except when there’s an event at Reliant. I’ll need to see some details.

The other options start with the same premise: The Dome’s outer shell would remain standing, but the interior would be gutted, removing seats, concourses and skyboxes, and a 300,000- to 400,000-square-foot floor would be installed at street level above the current Dome floor, which is 32 feet below street level.

“When you walked into the Dome, you would walk right onto this new floor surface,” Loston said. “We would be getting rid of the hole in the ground and rehabbing the building.”

Potential uses in a basic reconfiguration could include a planetarium and a institute for science, technology, education and mathematics, established through non-public funding. With portable seats, the Dome also could accommodate sports events, indoor festivals or events in conjunction with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The third option — “the second option on steroids,” as Loston described it — would include space for meeting rooms, conference rooms and laboratories, built on what are now the Dome’s fifth and seventh levels, plus a collection of museums and a movie soundstage.

All this sounds great, but the key words in there are “non-public funding”. The reason why this has dragged on for as long as it has is precisely because there has not been a private entity that has been able to provide a plan for the Dome and the money to make it happen. How is this different from those previous efforts? I guess we’ll learn more next week, but for now color me skeptical.

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.

Council may vote today to strengthen preservation ordinance

Last week, we heard that Houston City Council was considering a change to the historic preservation ordinance that would actually prevent structures from being torn down or moved if the Houston Archeological and Historic Commission denied the request to do so. Right now, all that the owner of such a property needs to do is wait 90 days, then go ahead and do whatever he or she had originally planned. Assuming it doesn’t get tagged, Council will vote today on a proposal that would suspend 90 day waivers until the modified ordinance is ready for debate.

“We’re voting [today] to protect our historic structures in our historic districts until the committee of stakeholders agrees on revisions to the current historic preservation ordinance,” said Councilwoman Sue Lovell, who chairs the council committee that deals with preservation matters.

[…]

If passed, the temporary update would take effect immediately and apply to all new applications for demolitions, relocations and new construction on property in any of the city’s 15 historic districts. The new rule would not apply to those owners who already have sought permission for changes, which can run the gamut from demolition to a window update. Those who can show that they already have paid a contractor for work related to a change to their property also could get an exemption from the new rule, said Suzy Hartgrove, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

The task force weighing the permanent changes and Lovell’s council committee are expected to work together to produce final proposed amendments to the ordinance. The city then would notify residents of its historic districts about the proposed changes, hold hearings and vet concerns, Hartgrove said.

Preservationists are understandably happy about this; I certainly think it’s long overdue. So far I have not seen any reaction from the developers, or from the shills like Kendall Miller of Houstonians for Responsible Growth. (Their website appears to be out of date – the most recent “latest news” on it is from last October. I wonder what’s up with that.) You can never really judge these things till you know who’s against them and why. My guess is that this will get tagged, and we’ll have a better idea of where the battle lines are after that.

Demolition Day

Get ready to say goodbye to a bunch of abandoned buildings.

“Demolition Day,” which Mayor Annise Parker announced in her state of the city speech last month, is the culmination of months of effort by the Houston Police Department’s Neighborhood Protection Corps to find owners and encourage them to take care of their properties.

“This is a time where we can show our constituents that we really care about blight removal in our communities,” said Councilwoman Wanda Adams, who chairs the City Council’s Neighborhood Protection Committee. “We are concerned about quality of life and public safety, and dangerous buildings do bring the quality of life and the property values in our communities. This is a positive step, but we have a long way to go.”

Since 2005, the city has taken down 3,909 buildings that were ordered demolished after efforts to contact the owners and urge them to make repairs were unsuccessful.

185 buildings are on the list for today; Swamplot lists a few of them. According to the sidebar, 681 such demos have been done in this fiscal year, and adding in this group makes it the busiest since the city started doing them. And there’s still a lot more of them out there.

Still trying to save the Dome

Nancy Sarnoff reports.

A new page has sprung up on Facebook called Save the Astrodome.

It was created by the Houstonian behind www.AmnesiaHouston.org, a Web site aimed at bringing attention to the city’s disappearing landmarks.

The creator compares the Astrodome to the Eiffel Tower and wonders, “what else it could be.”

That’s the question, isn’t it? As noted before, none of the ideas that have been floated for what to do with the Dome seem to have gone anywhere. I’m sure some of that is a function of the economy, but none of those schemes had gotten much traction before things went south, either. If you can solve the “what to do with it” problem, the rest takes care of itself. And please, the “why not let it be the new home of the Dynamo?” question has long been answered and was never a viable option anyway. I go back and forth on this, but in the end this is what it will come down to. If there’s something that can be done with it, I believe it will. If not, well, kaboom. It’s as simple as that.

The Texas Stadium geological survey

When Texas Stadium went boom, in addition to providing space for transit-oriented development, the explosion itself provided the opportunity to do a seismological study of the area.

Dr. Jay Pulliam is a professor of geophysics at Baylor University and one of the people spearheading the study. He said knowing more about the crust and mantle below the Dallas-Fort Worth area can shed light about how the planet’s continents were formed.

That’s because North Texas sits atop the dormant Balcones Fault zone. It’s a spot where continents once collided and pulled apart, eventually forming the Earth’s land mass as we know it today.

“It’s a really interesting story because it’s the site of one of these major plate tectonic occurrences,” Pulliam said.

Yet a good subsurface look at the zone has been difficult. The makeup of matter beneath the ground typically requires two things – energy sources like earthquakes and seismographs to record the waves they create. Texas has never had much of either.

Sounds like more data is needed. I’ll leave it up to the good folks of North Texas to decide which other stadia might be used for these purposes.

Bye-bye, Texas Stadium

It went boom on Sunday morning.

More than 38 years of football and entertainment memories came crashing down Sunday morning when 11-year-old Casey Rogers pushed the button that set off 2,715 pounds of dynamite, leveling Texas Stadium in less than a minute.

All that remained standing at the Dallas Cowboys’ former home after the implosion were three buttresses at the southeast end of the stadium where the implosion process started. Demolition officials said that the columns were being held up by debris and would be easy to demolish.

Residents reported feeling the blasts as far away as Farmers Branch and Highland Park.

The implosion was witnessed by thousands of fans who parked in the stadium’s Red Lot and lined streets surrounding the stadium all its sides. Fans began arriving for a chance to see the implosion late Saturday night, and Irving officials opened the red lot 20 minutes early because of the line to get in.

Casey was the winner of a national essay contest for children for the right to push the button. I don’t think I can add anything to that.

Irving officials decided to raze the stadium after it was determined there would be little use for the structure. Officials want a high-end development there in the future — perhaps something akin to Millenium Park in Chicago. But for the next 10 years, it will be the staging area for highway construction in the area.

So, is this a preview of what is eventually to come for the Astrodome, or is it a reason why we shouldn’t go the same way? Discuss. And watch the video here, because I know you want to.

Weingarten’s whining

Apparently, the folks at Weingarten are a wee bit sensitive about the negative reactions they’ve gotten since their plans to demolish the interior of the Alabama Theater became public knowledge. They’ve been keeping their PR people busy with a continued barrage of ever-denser statements about what may or may not be happening at that location. It’s all got a kind of perverse beauty to it, actually. Go click that last link (to Swamplot, naturally) to catch up on the latest.

Staples confirms it is not looking at the Alabama Theater

Swamplot noted this last week when one of its readers sent an email to Staples, and now the company has written a letter to the Chron to confirm that they are not seeking to redevelop the Alabama Theater.

Staples was invited by the owner to consider leasing the Alabama Theatre location. We showed interest because the area has a dynamic community with numerous growing small businesses. As is customary, we looked at the property and provided the owner with our prototypical plans to review, in order to provide us with an idea how the property might be adapted for our use.

[…]

As for this location, we are pursuing other opportunities in the area at this time. Staples will continue to be a good neighbor as we expand in the Houston region. We support the communities in which we live and do business, and we always welcome feedback.

Amy Shanler, public relations director, Staples Inc., Framingham, Mass.

Good to know. Link, naturally, via Swamplot.