HOUSTON -- The fate of a plan to renovate the Houston Astrodome, an iconic stadium that’s fallen into disrepair since it was shuttered four years ago, will be in the hands of voters this fall.
Harris County commissioners on Tuesday approved placing a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot that will ask voters to authorize up to $217 million in bonds to pay for a plan to turn the stadium into a giant convention center and exhibition space.
County commissioners, who unanimously approved placing the measure on the ballot, said it was important that voters decide the Astrodome’s future.
Commissioners stressed Tuesday voters must understand that approval of the measure would lead to a property tax increase of around half a cent per $100 of assessed value. Officials said they will try to make that as clear as possible on the ballot measure. On a house valued at about $200,000 and with a homestead exemption, officials said a person’s tax bill would go up about $8 per year if the measure is approved.
County Judge Ed Emmett said for those who care about the future of the Astrodome, whether they support revamping the structure or getting rid of it, "this is where it begins." Emmett, who supports the ballot measure, said the plan is the best option.
"We have to give it to the voters. We can’t just leave the Astrodome sitting out in the parking lot like an old rusting ship," said Emmett, adding that whenever he gives speeches, people always ask him about the fate of the structure
Emmett said if the ballot measure fails, the Astrodome probably would be demolished.
Officials say tax breaks, naming rights and other incentives are expected to lower the project’s cost. The final figure on the ballot is expected to be lower than $217 million.
The renovation project from the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., dubbed "The New Dome Experience," would take about 2 ½ years to complete.
The proposal calls for creating 350,000 square feet of exhibition space by removing all the interior seats and raising the floor to street level. Other changes include creating 400,000 square feet of plaza and green space on the outside of the structure.
The Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. opted to go with its own plan for the world’s first domed, air-conditioned stadium instead of one of 19 private-sector plans submitted for its reuse.
Among the private plans was one that would have turned the Astrodome into a tourist area with retail and restaurant space and another that would have stripped the structure to its steel frame and turned the area into a park.
Sports and convention corporation chairman Edgar Colon said his organization plans to host town hall meetings and speak to community groups in an effort to convince voters to support the ballot measure. Officials said campaigns for or against the plan would not be paid by the county but would likely be sponsored by private groups.
Officials have been considering the Astrodome’s fate since it was deemed unfit for occupancy and closed for good in 2009. The building, one of Houston’s signature structures, costs taxpayers about $3 million per year for basic maintenance.
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World."
The 400,000-square foot dome was once home to Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and the NFL’s Houston Oilers. It was also home to the city’s rodeo until 2003. Its most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.