Consultants recommend reuse for Astrodome

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by Jeremy Desel & Sherry Williams / KHOU 11 News & KHOU.com staff

Associated Press

Posted on May 22, 2012 at 6:26 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 23 at 5:43 PM

Poll:
What should be done with the Dome?

HOUSTON—A team of consultants is recommending that the Astrodome be turned into a multi-purpose facility that could host sporting events and massive exhibitions, while also preserving the iconic structure’s outer shell.

The $270 million option was one of four considered by consultants led by Dallas-based CSL. The other options included leaving the vacant stadium alone, demolishing it and building an outdoor plaza for $70 million, or building a massive "renaissance" complex.

In a presentation to Harris County’s sports and convention wing, the consultants said the multipurpose option could turn Houston into a popular destination for special events and national trade shows.

The recommendation now goes to the Harris County commissioners, who can take up the matter at their next capital projects meeting on June 26.

It’s not clear where all of the money would come from, but a bond issue could come as soon as November.

The Astrodome was once the envy of other cities, a fully air-conditioned facility with a translucent roof that kept out the heat and humidity, gave synthetic grass its name, made Houston a sports entertainment destination and sparked the imaginations of baseball lovers, concert-goers and some of the country’s most creative minds.

Walt Disney, according to local legend, was so blown away when he stood under the dome that he dubbed it the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Then came the retractable roof, and the Astrodome, in its heyday the proud host to everyone from Muhammad Ali to Madonna, rapidly became a venue of the past.

The Astrodome has sat on the sidelines for a decade. The last time it was used for an event was in 2008. More memorably, in 2005 it housed refugees from Hurricane Katrina. But it’s costing the county $2 million to $3 million a year in maintenance fees.

"It was an amazing structure at its time," said Mark Miller, general manager of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., the agency that oversees the Astrodome, Reliant Stadium and the other complexes on the 340-acre campus. "People were coming from all over the world to see the Astrodome, it was that significant. People like Frank Sinatra, Walt Disney, John Wayne ... just came to Houston to see the Astrodome because it was such an amazing thing at the time."

The dome hosted the historic "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, concerts by Elvis and the Rolling Stones and the Republican National Convention.

Miller recently escorted KHOU 11 News through the old landmark, which has clearly seen better days.

Vandals have damaged the locker room, there’s mold crawling up the walls and a false ceiling has collapsed in one room.

The seats are caked in dust, and many of them are torn with the padding sticking out. Astroturf was soaked when rain leaked into the dome.

In 1965, after Houston unveiled its marvel, complete with luxury suites, almost tasty food and beer served at clean Formica counters, comfortable press boxes and cushioned seats, other cities quickly followed suit. There was the Kingdome in Seattle—now gone. The Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla. Minneapolis’ Metrodome. And New Orleans’ Superdome, considered an improvement—bigger and better—on the Astrodome.

"Eventually, it’s always about money," said Bob Bluthardt, former chairman of the ballparks research committee at the Society for American Baseball Research. "And the Astrodome went from being state-of-the-art to being obsolete in barely a generation."

John Pastier, an architect who wrote the 2006 book "Historic Ballparks," agreed.

"The fixed dome had a certain period of currency and then was replaced by retractable domes," he said.

A roof that opens and closes has the benefit of beating back the elements when necessary while also being able to let in the air and the view.

Houston, too, wanted bigger and better. Like other teams, the Astros wanted their own stadium, so they built Minute Maid Park with a retractable roof. The NFL’s Texans also got a new retractable roof stadium—Reliant—that opened in 2002.

Since then, the Astrodome hasn’t turned a profit.

So when it came to paying millions to get inspections and permits reapproved, the corporation opted out. And the Astrodome has stood largely vacant.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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