Transforming the Astrodome into a huge production studio would preserve the landmark, create jobs and pull revenue from other parts of the country, say Elise Hendrix and Cynthia Hand Neely, the brains behind the latest idea for the aging sports venue.
As a production studio financed by independent investors, they argue, the Astrodome could be used 24/7, rain or shine.
"Hollywood has these huge soundstages, and we have some soundstages in Texas, but none are big enough to build a whole city in or to create an entire neighborhood," says Neely, who sits on the board of directors of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance and is president of Women In Film & Television Houston. "There could also be periphery support outside the building for equipment rental, costumes and a number of individual businesses."
So far, though, this is a dramatic proposal waiting to attach itself to some big investors and architects.
"We don't want to name names," Hendrix, a freelance makeup artist who has also acted and modeled, said Tuesday. "But we're close to securing funding and moving on to the next phase of development, which is bringing in designers and engineers."
The idea to turn the Dome into a production studio came to Hendrix about a year and a half ago. The Houston native had been living and working in Louisiana, regularly flying off to do jobs in Los Angeles. When she moved back to Houston in 2005, she was shocked at the city's limited opportunities in her line of work.
"My friends and I thought it was asinine that Houston didn't have the kind of film and production industry it was capable of having," Hendrix said. "It all boiled down to organization. So we opened a nonprofit, Houston Association for Entertainment Professionals (houstonaep.org), for all the people behind the camera."
Hendrix said her Astrodome plan has three parts. An umbrella group that she has set up, Greater Houston Global Management Group LLC, would oversee the three divisions:
- Astrodome Productions Studios would be a full-service site, with a large sound stage, 24-hour film processing labs, carpentry and equipment rentals, and more.
- An event-productions group would be set up to serve the southern region. In theory, it would be comparable to International Management Group, the group that produces Fashion Week in New York and Los Angeles.
- The Reel Stars of Texas Museum would honor actors, singers, writers, directors and behind-the-scenes players from the Lone Star State.
In the meantime, local preservationists are happy that there are still new ideas swirling around the Astrodome. Any plan to keep the Houston landmark from being plowed under is worth entertaining, they say.
"If ever there was a Houston structure that must be saved, it's the Astrodome, a building known around the world for everything from the first indoor baseball game to sheltering Hurricane Katrina refugees," said Madeleine McDermott Hamm, chair of Greater Houston Preservation Alliance's "Save Our Astrodome" campaign. "GHPA favors any plan that will meet historical guidelines and bring the Astrodome alive again as a public attraction that will benefit Houston."