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What happened to potential plans for the Astrodome?

HOUSTON – Houstonians began 2019 with a plan to repurpose the Astrodome, but like many plans before, that too failed to come to fruition. KPRC 2 wanted to know happened and if there are any new potential plans for the Astrodome on the table?

What Happened to the Last Plan?

Commissioners Court signed off on a $100-million plan to raise the Dome’s floor to ground level, providing close to 9-acres of covered space that could be used for a variety of events. Below this would be a parking garage.

“What people have to understand is the Dome belongs to the taxpayers of Harris County, it’s fully paid for and it’s an integral part of what goes on at that whole NRG complex,” said former Harris County Judge and KPRC political analyst Ed Emmett.

According to officials with the County Engineer’s Office, $6.1 million was spent on design and planning for this project and construction was scheduled to begin after this year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The plan was brought forth by Emmett after years’ worth of other ideas failed to either gain traction or find financing and the voters rejected a bid to turn the Dome in another convention space. However, the responsibility of seeing this plan to fruition fell largely to the office of the County Judge.

When Lina Hidalgo was elected to the position, she and her staff looked at this plan.

“The plan that had been designed wouldn’t have yielded, truly a usable building,” said Hidalgo. “It’s just not something that would have made it competitive against convention centers elsewhere.”

Hidalgo said she also felt the idea for a parking garage would not work.

“If you put in more parking you’re just going to get more congestion,” said Hidalgo.

In other words, that plan died.

Are there current plans for the Astrodome?

“Right now we don’t have specific plans for the Astrodome,” said Hidalgo. “It’s just not a priority right now.”

Hidalgo said issues like flooding and criminal justice reform take precedent over finding new ways to use the Astrodome. Hidalgo was also blunt in stating tax payer dollars could be better spent elsewhere in the county.

“We’d have to do a lot of work to understand what the right project is, we’d have to do a lot of community engagement,” said Hidalgo. “That would take a whole process that right now is just not a priority.”

However, executive director of the Astrodome Conservancy, Beth Wiedower Jackson said work is underway to identify new plans and secure private funding sources.

“It’s not a quick fix, we all know that,” said Jackson.

Jackson said her organization is working on market research that will hopefully provide a more targeted answer as to what Houstonians would like to see happen with the Dome, along with a way to form a public/private partnership when it comes to financing.

“Is that a year or two down the road before there is a plan on paper for folks to actually consider, probably so,” said Jackson. “They’re are some wonderfully creative and off-the-wall ideas. The rub has been the financing.”

Hidalgo said she is open to the Conservancy looking for new ideas.

“They’ll help lead the identification of a better project that will not put the burden on our limited budget,” said Hidalgo.

Executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, which manages NRG Park, Ryan Walsh said they too are looking for new ideas. However, finding a use for the Dome has to be agreeable to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Texans. Plus, the Dome is a state-antiquities landmark, which means the State Historical Commission also gets a say in the matter.

“Anything we do takes into account, not only the historical legacy but also the future, our tenants and of course the Commissioner’s Court,” said Walsh. “We got four buildings, 350 acres, including the Astrodome and how do we maintain that and revitalize that, renovate the park as a whole.”

How is the Dome holding up?

“(The) Dome is in great shape, it’s a very structurally sound building,” said Walsh.

Walsh said HCSCC spends a little under $100,000 a year in maintenance for the Dome.

“Maintaining the fire suppression systems we have to keep activated by the city of Houston ordinances, as well as light bulbs, security cameras, security alarms, things like that,” said Walsh.

What to do with the Astrodome?

Posted by KPRC2 Robert Arnold on Wednesday, November 20, 2019