Plans for Astrodome go forward after bill dies

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A plan to turn the Astrodome into a revenue generator for the county can move ahead in earnest now that a potential roadblock has been cleared.

That roadblock came in the form of a proposed law filed by State Sen. John Whitmire.

Harris County Commissioners came up with a plan to spend $105 million to raise the Dome's floor; creating nine acres of enclosed space and an underground parking garage.

Commissioners said fees collected from parking and renting the inside of the Dome would then be used to offset the costs of upgrading and maintaining NRG Park as a whole.

“In order to do that we either have to use property tax or we have to generate revenue in NRG Park and the Dome is the revenue generator,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “The (Offshore Technology Conference), and the auto show and the boat show and all the other festivals and gatherings that have already said, 'When it's going to be ready, we can we start renting that nine acres?'”

However, Whitmire filed a bill that would force the county to get voter approval before spending any money on the Dome.

“It's a dream and you shouldn't spend taxpayer dollars on a dream,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire's bill sailed through the Senate, but hit a brick wall in the House.

After passing the Senate, the bill was sent to the House County Affairs committee.

State Representative Garnet Coleman is the chair of that committee.

“The Astrodome is a symbol of our 'can-do' spirit,” Coleman said. “I want it left as a symbol of what my city is and has been.”

The bill never made it out of Coleman's committee, so it died. Coleman wouldn’t say whether he agreed or disagreed with the Commissioner’s plans.

“I don't have to agree or disagree because I don't want it torn down,” Coleman said.

Whitmire argued voters already rejected one plan for the Dome and should be allowed to have a say in how taxpayer dollars are spent. Whitmire believes the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“If we had all our other services taken care of I might say, 'all right go ahead and take a chance,' but we got serious problems,” Whitmire said. “I think elections matter, but when you try to stop somebody from spending $100 (million) or $200 million with their friends, you get a lot of political push back. I did my job in the Senate.”

Emmett said the money spent on the project would not require the county to borrow any funds or raise taxes.

Whitmire's bill did get a second chance when it was attached to another bill, but that also died.

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