Is this, at long last, The Plan for the Astrodome?
The iconic, yet aging Astrodome is worth saving from the wrecking ball and could find new life as a massive indoor park and green space, a national land use group said Friday.
A panel of experts with the Urban Land Institute released a preliminary proposal for the former Eighth Wonder of the World that would convert it into a public space that includes an indoor lawn, outdoor gardens with a promenade of oak trees, and exhibit space for festivals and community events.
It would also include a play area with zip lines, trails and rock climbing walls.
“The Astrodome can and should live on,” said panel chairman Wayne Ratkovich, president of Los Angeles-based Ratkovich Co., which specializes in urban infill and rehabilitation projects.
The panel that included urban planners, designers and economists from around the country, spent this week interviewing stakeholders and Houstonians about the former home of the Houston Astros. It presented its preliminary findings at a public meeting at the NRG Center and will present a final report to Harris County within 90 days.
The study by the non-profit education and research institute was paid for by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation and a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which named the Astrodome a National Treasure in 2013.
While the costs and details were not firm, the panel agreed that the structure is worth saving. The panel proposed a public-private funding structure that would include a mix of philanthropy, historic tax credits, hotel occupancy tax funds, money from tax increment reinvestment zones and county funding, possibly in the form of a bond proposal.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who previously proposed an indoor park idea, said he did not know if the proposal would require a bond initiative to fund. Yet, Emmett said, the proposal has an “almost 100 percent chance” of succeeding.
“They unanimously came back and said, ‘The Dome needs to be saved. Yes, it’s usable. Now, go do it,'” he said. “Now begins the hard work.”
Ideally, Emmett said, a portion of the park project would be completed in time for 2017 when Houston hosts the Super Bowl at NRG Stadium.
You can see the presentation here. The ULI got involved in September. The plan is basically a synthesis of a number of ideas that have been advanced before, and there is a lot to like about it. As has always been the case, the question is how to fund it, and how to get public support for it if it comes to a vote. The one bit of recent polling evidence that we have is not positive on that latter point, but we haven’t had a plan that everyone with a stake in it has bought into and worked together to sell. If Commissioners Court and the Rodeo and the Texans and the preservationists are all on board and pulling in the same direction, we could have something. I don’t know how big an “if” that is yet, but we’ll see. What do you think of this?