HOUSTON- It’s a tug of war between state senators and Harris county officials over the future of the Astrodome.
The iconic structure has been sitting empty for over 15 years, and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett fears that a solution to change that could be derailed for the foreseeable future.
Harris County commissioners awarded an $8.8 million dollar contract Tuesday to renovate the dome by raising its floors and installing parking underneath.
It would raise the ground level two floors to fit about 1,400 parking spaces. It would also create more than eight acres of open space above that, potentially for private entities.
The project, slated to be completed as early as 2020, would cost an estimated $105 million dollars.
“We could have a revenue generating facility rather than an abandoned building,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “The only property tax we are using would be the same amount we would use to tear it down. We’ve committed to paying that back from revenue generated.”
On the same day that the contract was awarded, Senator John Whitmire introduced a bill that would require Harris County voters to vote before any renovation happens.
“I can’t sit by as a state senator and a taxpayer and watch someone spend this kind of money. We don’t know what the end game is,” said Senator John Whitmire at a news conference in Austin. “Anything of this magnitude, the public has a right to vote on.”
Whitmire believes Harris County taxpayers made themselves clear in 2013 by rejecting a $217 million dollar bond proposal which would have paid for massive renovations to the Astrodome.
“This is not about the future of the facility. This is not about the dome. This is about respecting the taxpayer’s voice and not using property taxes,” he added.
Emmett told KHOU 11 News that Whitmire’s bill is a based on a “flawed assumption”.
“He’s been quotes as saying he’s doing this because the money from the Astrodome should be spent on NRG, Minute Maid and Toyota to make sure they can pay off their bonded indebtedness. They don’t have anything to do with this,” explained Emmett. “They have their own money from the hotel occupancy tax. We have a little piece of hotel occupancy tax that is totally separate from theirs.”
If county officials have it their way, construction at the Astrodome would begin in about one year after the architecture and engineering phase is complete.
Whitmire’s bill will still have to go through the House and the Senate.