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In order to save the Astrodome…

I’m a little behind the times in commenting on this story about the sad current state of affairs with the Astrodome. Tom thinks that demolition is the Dome’s ultimate fate and that it’s past time for us to recognize that. But there’s little political will for that:

[T]he thought of doing away with [the Astrodome] is anathema to politicians.

While the county never intended to rush into demolishing the Dome, the looming warm-glow images of Earl Campbell, Nolan Ryan and everyone’s first rodeo all have pushed them into treating that idea like some sort of cloud-cuckoo-land fantasy hardly worth mentioning.

“If in the end there is no viable use for this building, we don’t need to keep it just for its own sake,” [County Judge Robert] Eckels says in an interview. Envisioning the backlash even such an innocuous statement might trigger, he quickly adds, “And the headline shouldn’t be ‘Eckels Thinks We Ought to Tear Down the Dome,’ because I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Got it. The county is definitely, absolutely, utterly committed to keeping the Dome. If it can. Which it can. Hopefully.

Oddly enough, I’m coming to the conclusion that the best way to ensure the survival of the Dome is to threaten its imminent demise. The question, as posed by Willie Loston, executive director for the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, is “who’s going to pay to keep the Astrodome?” There’s been a lot of crazy schemes floated for turning the property into something that would make money, but perhaps the best option is to leave it more or less as is and just find someone to pick up the $600K annual maintenance costs.

How do you do that, then? Well, I think a little public pressure on the right individuals, aided by the inevitable outcry at the prospect of the Dome’s doom, would go a long way. Who are the right individuals? The three people who are primarily responsible for the Dome’s predicament, who not coincidentally are the three biggest benefactors from the events that led to that same predicament. I speak of Bud Adams, Drayton McLane, and Bob McNair.

Six hundred grand a year is small potatoes to these guys, especially when measured against the money they’ve made off the taxpayers of Harris County and elsewhere. Adams in particular is said to be more and more concerned about his legacy as he ages. Why not have Mayor White, Judge Eckels, and a few other heavy hitters ask them to set up an Astrodome Historical Preservation Foundation, supported by their initial generosity and future fundraising events, and see what they say? It’s not like we’re any worse off if they laugh politely and throw everyone out of their offices.

I see this as the lowest cost plan, and as long as the air conditioning bills are being paid, you can still give tours of the Dome to whoever might care to see it up close. It preserves a piece of Houston’s history, and it leaves the old Dome parking lots in place for Reliant Stadium’s use. What have we got to lose by trying this?

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9 Comments

  1. William Hughes says:

    This reminds me in a way of what happened to the Montreal Forum (longtime home of the Montreal Canadiens). The shell sat there for several years until it was turned into an entertainment complex / shopping mall / Canadiens museum.

    Since this is the first indoor stadium built for baseball / football, perhaps a similar idea might work for the Astrodome.

  2. Charles, as one real estate developer once advised me regarding a problem building on one of his properties, “the trouble with the dang thing is that it eats.”

    The problem with the dome is analogous. A $600,000 operating deficit at this point will only increase. Moreover, the operating deficit does not account for capital requirements to replace aging systems and other components that likely will exceed the operating deficit on an aging structure such as the Dome. Once you add in capital costs to the operating deficit, my bet is that the annual cost of maintaining the Dome would exceed $1 million quickly.

    To endow payment of such a debt, Messrs. Adams, McLane and McNair would have to toss in a total in excess of $20 milllion, which is not chump change even for men of their means. And I’m betting that Messrs. McLane and McNair would end up having to contribute a disproportionate share of the funds. ;^)

    The best use of the Dome would probably be to make it a Gaylord Texan style convention hotel for the Reliant Park complex. However, the other requirements of Reliant Park (Texan games and other events at Reliant Stadium, the Rodeo, etc.)
    makes the logistics of arranging for parking and access to such a facility problematic and likely impossible. The best reflection of the dubious feasibility of that use is that companies such as Gaylord that are experienced in constructing and operating such facilities are not lining up for the opportunity to retrofit the Dome.

    Consequently, despite its nostalgic value, the Dome should be destroyed so that the property can be dedicated for its best use. Initially, the best use for the property is parking for Reliant Park. However, based on the development of Reliant Park as a convention venue, my sense is that another facility to enhance the convention facilities may ultimately be the best use.

  3. Kimberly says:

    I understand the logic of tearing down the structure. I also understand that Houston is the one major city in this state with no real protection of its historic structures. (At least, those outside the purview of Tilman Fertitta and the bastion of urbanites, et al)

    It’s going to sound like I’m a rice-eating Austin-loving hippy, but I still think the demolition of the Jefferson Davis Hospital was a travesty. And that the gentrification of Midtown was not always a plus. And that maintaining the current mix of incomes in the Third Ward is a good thing.

    And that the Astrodome should be protected if at all possible. That’s what other cities in Texas do. Protect their history.

  4. Boy, you’re no fun at all, Tom. 🙂

    I still think the startup cost, even at $20 million, is within the range of feasibility. I admit that the triumvirate I’ve named probably couldn’t do that all themselves, but I bet they could put a decent dent in it. And I still think we’d be no worse off to look into it as a possibility, especially if the next best choice is the wrecking ball. If you’re gonna dream, dream big.

  5. William Hughes says:

    This is a follow-up to my first message.

    Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto was for many years the home of the Maple Leafs, and was one of the best known arenas in North America. It was just announced that it will be turned into a supermarket.

    The Astrodome deserves a better fate than that.

  6. Davebo says:

    20 million to fund an endowment that would allow the Astrodome to continue to sit empty and unused seems a bit silly to me. I off all people have fond memories of watching Oiler games during the Luv Ya Blue period in the dome. But we need to keep this in perspective.

    It’s a building. A building with a rich history, but still, just a building.

    Tear it down, collect some memorabilia, and move on.

  7. It’s been a while since anyone tried that biosphere thing.

    Just think about it, that’s all I’m sayin’.

  8. kevin whited says:

    Here’s a question to the folks who think “someone” needs to preserve the Dome:

    How much would you personally ante up for this cause?

    Just curious. For the record, I wouldn’t donate to it, and would rather see Tom’s $20 million (and I wonder if that isn’t low) put to more productive uses in the community. That’s a lot of jack to tie up.

  9. Jimmie says:

    The Dome is a landmark, and should be kept. And i would gladly give to help keep up the dome, if somebody were to set-up some sort of fund. Anyhow, It would be like tearing down the coliseum. Something i very much dont want to see.