HOUSTON (AP) – Harris County commissioners will discuss the future of the long-vacant Astrodome at a capital projects meeting on Tuesday.
The iconic dome has been sitting dormant and rotting in the middle of Reliant Park since closing in 2009. Last month, the county’s sports and convention corporation approved a plan to turn the dome into multipurpose facility, suitable for conventions, festivals and sporting events. The multipurpose facility was one of four presented by a consulting firm. It also includes a new arena to replace seldom-used Reliant Arena. The new arena would have up to 10,000 seats, 250,000 square feet of exhibition space and a 2,500-3,000-space parking garage.
The other options included keeping the dome intact, tearing it down or building a “Renaissance” complex, with a science and technology center, museums, hotel rooms, retail, dining or entertainment.
The multipurpose facility and arena replacement is the most expensive of the four options. The consultants estimated that the renovation of the dome will cost about $270 million and the new arena plan will cost about $385 million.
If the commissioners approve the proposal, it would go to a referendum. Voters would likely have to consider a tax hike to finance the project.
The dome’s future has been hotly debated for years. It’s a $3 million-$4 million annual drain on public funds for simple maintenance and it’s a giant logistical impediment for other events at Reliant Park, most notably the city’s rodeo each spring. But it’s also Houston’s signature structure, compared to the Eiffel Tower by County Judge Ed Emmett for its historical significance in the city.
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was a one-of-a-kind structure — the world’s first domed sports venue, the first with air conditioning and spacious enough to fit an 18-story building under its 208-foot high roof. Dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the building’s eclectic history includes Ali fights, Elvis concerts, Major League Baseball’s first indoor game, a Republican National Convention and the world’s largest indoor rodeo. It hosted the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, WrestleMania and served as an emergency shelter in 2005 for refugees from Hurricane Katrina.
It was also the home of the Astros and Oilers and that creates the most emotional tie for longtime Houston residents and sports fans. In 2010, the sports and convention corporation conducted an online survey that showed “overwhelming” support for preserving the Astrodome, according to corporation chairman Edgar Colon. A “Save Our Astrodome” petition on the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance website has more than 3,500 signatures, many with sentimental messages attached.
Consultants said that turning the dome into a multipurpose facility would lure exhibitions, conventions and other events. Another part of the proposal is a privately funded hotel, which would be connected to the Astrodome via sky-bridge.
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