What to do with the Astrodome?

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter
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HOUSTON - The eighth wonder of the world may be empty and unusable, but it's certainly not free. Local 2 Investigates got a look inside the aging icon and found out exactly what taxpayers are spending as county officials continue to debate the fate of the Astrodome. 

From the worn seat cushions, to the signs, to the old locker rooms, to the crumpled and torn Astroturf, nostalgia lurks in every corner of the Astrodome. Health and fire code violations permanently shut down the building in 2009. Since then, proposals ranging from a hotel to a movie studio been floated, but no one in the county can decide what should be done with it.

"It's sitting there, it's dying, it's decaying," said Leroy Shafer, chief operating officer of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. "You guys were in there today, let's do something with it."

Officials with the Rodeo and the Houston Texans submitted a proposal this week showing it would cost $29 million to demolish the Dome and make room for 1,600 parking spaces. That figure is far lower than past estimates showing demolition, clean-up and construction of a plaza run as high as $78 million.

"There's more to it than just $29 million, their own report says there are some things they're not considering," said Edgar Colon, chairman of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation.

"We didn't forget anything," Shafer fired back during a separate interview with Local 2.

Since county officials can't seem to agree on how much it will cost to demolish and clean-up the Dome, it is no surprise there has been no consensus as to what to do with the facility.

"It's in the best interest of the taxpayers to continue to explore all the options," said Colon.

Colon noted the recession prevented many would be suitors from coming up with the money to fund any development or destruction of the Dome. Colon said the rebounding economy and Houston's bid for another Super Bowl has brought renewed interest in moving forward with plans for the Dome.

"I can tell you this is something we have been working on for four years," said Colon. "Obviously this cannot go on forever, we know that."

"Give me a break. We knew that this building had to have something done to it 13 years ago," said Shafer.

Colon promised a viable option would be presented to Commissioners' Court soon, but could provide no specifics on when that would happen or what options are being considered. Meanwhile, taxpayers are still spending between $1 million and $2 million a year for insurance, security and maintenance for a building no one can use.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said his patience is wearing thin when it comes to the slow pace of finding an option for the Dome.

"The Sports and Convention Corporation needs to come to Commissioners' Court with a proposal, because quite frankly I'm frustrated," said Emmett.

Shafer was open about the recent proposal being designed to put pressure on the county to come up with a plan.

"It tears my heart out to see it sitting there and falling apart," said Shafer.

Emmett said he was disappointed with the Rodeo and Texans' proposal.

"We were hoping for a real proposal and it turns out it was just another cost analysis of tearing the Dome down," said Emmett.

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