HOUSTON – The Astrodome Conservancy hosted a news conference Thursday to discuss its campaign to create a community-supported vision for the reuse and redevelopment of the landmark.
Titled “Future Dome,” the campaign is asking for the public’s input through a series of surveys, engagement activities, informative materials, and public meetings. Future Dome will offer a variety of forums and venues for public input, including a series of virtual meetings, interactive online and in-person activities. The results of the campaign are supposed to be used to support an “innovative, feasible, and community-backed” approach to the reuse of the Astrodome.
The first Future Dome event will be a virtual public meeting on June 10, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. You can register at future-dome.com to reserve your spot at this free online event.
The status of the Astrodome remains unclear.
The Astrodome was built in 1965 and it was the world’s first fully enclosed, air-conditioned multi-purpose sports arena. According to the Future Dome website, the Astrodome is owned and maintained by Harris County but has been empty since 2009. The establishment has been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is designated a Texas State Landmark. There is currently no adopted plan for the future of the Dome.
In 2018, Harris County Commissioners voted to renovate the “Eighth Wonder of the World” as a multipurpose sports and events center and a parking garage, allocating $105 million for the project. See the plans for the project (PDF).
However, plans for the renovation seemingly came to a halt last year. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in 2019 that she wants the county to focus on criminal justice reform and flood control.
The status of the project remains in “demo” mode and no other updates have been posted at this time.
To read more on Harris County’s plans to renovate the Astrodome, go here.
Officials weigh in
Just about anybody with access to a pencil and piece of paper has been tossing out ideas on the Astrodome since 2008. The problem has been and remains money.
“There’s never been a shortage of ideas for what to do with the Astrodome, it’s always been a shortage of money to pay for whatever the idea is.,” said former Harris County Judge and KPRC 2 political analyst, Ed Emmett.
Emmett said the unique construction of the Dome is what makes transforming it so expensive, but he argues it’s a taxpayer asset that can again be useful.
“If you start from that perspective, what is the minimal amount you can do to keep it standing and make it usable,” said Emmett.
This is the question the non-profit Astrodome Conservancy is hoping to answer with its ‘Future Dome’ project.
“The trick is finding the equation that works for commissioners court and for the public,” said Beth Wiedower Jackson, Conservancy executive director.
Jackson said for the next eight weeks the public is being asked to take a survey on what they want to see happen with the Dome. Jackson said the difference is the questions are framed knowing voters already rejected a $200-million bond referendum that would have turned the Dome into another convention space and current county leadership shelved the last $100-million approved plan to raise the Dome’s floor and create 9-acres of covered space with a parking garage underneath.
“We’re not going to the public to say, ‘sky’s the limit, what do you want to see in the Astrodome?’ We know that’s not possible, we know that’s not going to be successful,” Jackson said.
The Dome is also one of the most polarizing issues in the county. Any talk brings an instant range of opinions from turning it into a museum to ‘tear it down.’
“People have strong opinions. I’ve described the Dome as the bane of my existence and it’s one of those seemingly endless issues that keeps going on,” said Emmett.
The Conservancy is hoping to finally end the debate, using the survey results to find a publicly supported idea that requires minimal tax dollars and then present the idea to the commissioner’s court.
“Demonstrate there is a viable future for the Astrodome that is not solely dependent on public financing,” said Jackson. “The Conservancy has access to incentives and alternative financing and private dollars.”
Officials with county judge Lina Hidalgo’s office told KPRC 2 they don’t have a philosophical disagreement with finding a new purpose for the Dome but say using taxpayer dollars for the effort is not going to be a priority. Whatever decision is reached will also have to work with NRG Park’s other tenants, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Texans.
“Like many Houstonians, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has fond memories of the Astrodome. As a tenant that utilizes the entire NRG Park complex, the care and maintenance of the buildings that are currently in use – NRG Stadium, NRG Center and NRG Arena – will remain a top priority for the Rodeo. The Rodeo is supportive of a plan to create additional usable space that would contribute to the Rodeo’s mission and further enhance our annual event,” Rodeo officials wrote in an email to KPRC.
The State Historical Commission will also get a say in what happens with the Dome since it is a state antiquities landmark.
You can find the Conservancy’s ‘Future Dome’ survey here.