Astrodome won't be demolished; new proposal would convert it into conference, exposition center

Officials played on emotions to pitch a plan for a New Dome Experience

HOUSTON - Will dreams and memories save the Astrodome? Houston Sports and Convention Corp. leaders Wednesday played on emotions to pitch a plan for a "new dome experience."

We may be close to finding out what's next for the eighth wonder of the world. Harris County leaders said they have a plan for the Astrodome, and went to work on selling their idea.

The proposal is called the New Dome Experience, and it has a little something for everybody. Essentially the plan calls for removing all the seats inside and raising the field to street level, that way the Dome can be used for anything from a swim meet to a communications hub during a disaster.

"What we want the Dome to become for major events at Reliant Park is the front door," said Mark Miller, General Manager of SMG Reliant.

The group was considering 19 proposals on how to repurpose the Astrodome.

"One theme seemed to be fairly constant -- dreams and memories," said Willie Loston, Exec. Director of the HCSSC, about the proposals.

Loston said they will not demolish the Astrodome, but will move forward with their own idea, which incorporates elements from some of the proposals.

The plan is to make the Astrodome into a multi-purpose venue that can be used by anyone for almost any purpose. Officials with the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation are proposing to remove all the columns around the Dome, get rid of the ramps and ticket booths, put large glass windows on several sides and raise the field up to street level for easy access.

The New Dome Experience would be used as a spot for exhibit space, graduations, conferences, fan experiences during the Super Bowl or Final Four, even as a possible hub to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

"Whatever you want to do can easily be reconfigured and set up in the Dome anyway we want to do it," Miller said.

The HCSSC estimates it will cost $194 million and 30 months of construction to make this happen. So far, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is on board with this plan.

"Really believe that Houston and Harris County will become the event capital of the world. As it was pointed out there is no open space like this anywhere else in the world," Judge Emmett said.

As excited as everyone seems to be about this proposal, Wednesday's meeting was just the first hurdle.

The HCSSC has already approved the proposal and will present it to the Harris County Commissioners Court on June 25.

A final decision is still likely months away, and it will have to be approved by taxpayers.    

The Astrodome has been placed on a list of the nation's 11 most endangered historic places.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation released the list Wednesday.

The list also includes New York's old Pan Am Worldport Terminal at Kennedy Airport and Montana's one-room schoolhouses.

The Astrodome has been vacant since 2009, when it was deemed unfit for occupancy.

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