Houstonians want to save the Astrodome, but the devil is in the details

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by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on October 20, 2011 at 9:56 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 20 at 10:28 PM

HOUSTON --  Houston suffers a notorious reputation for tearing down historic buildings, but a new poll conducted by KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio indicates most voters want to keep the Astrodome standing.  Nonetheless, they apparently don’t like the price tag.

The survey indicates 52 percent of likely Houston voters favor demolishing the dome, while 31 percent oppose that idea.  Another 15 percent were undecided.  (The percentages don’t add up to 100 percent because some voters refused to answer certain questions.)

Houstonians old enough to have attended ball games and rodeos there remember the Astrodome for a series of events that electrified the city.  In 1980, Bum Phillips broke down in tears when tens of thousands of cheering Houston Oilers fans mobbed the Astrodome to welcome the team home from Philadelphia—even though the Oilers lost.  In 1986, Mike Scott pitched a no-hitter to win the division championship.  And in 2005, long after the lights went out after the last ball game, the eighth wonder of the world became the refuge of last resort for New Orleans evacuees fleeing Hurricane Katrina. 

But the question of what should happen next to the Astrodome gets complicated when voters consider the price tag.  Just keeping it sitting there vacant and unused costs taxpayers roughly $5 million a year, county officials say.  However, none of the three options officials are considering for the dome’s future win support from a majority of surveyed voters.

The cheapest option—razing the dome and turning it into a park—would cost about $100 million.  It’s opposed by 68 percent of surveyed voters and supported by only 23 percent.

A $300-million plan to leave the dome standing and turn it into a multi-use development seems to be the most popular of the three options, but it’s opposed by 51 percent of surveyed voters and supported by only 35 percent. 

And a $500-million plan that would convert the dome into a complex incorporating a planetarium and a movie studio is opposed by 58 percent and supported by only 30 percent of surveyed voters.

“These voters are telling us the city is heading in the wrong direction, people want to keep the Astrodome up,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist who supervised the poll.  “They want to find some other use. And no, they won’t tear it down and turn it into a park; they want that edifice up there.”

David Purdie, a waiter who has a closet full of Astrodomain artifacts, says he  wishes his job paid him enough to buy the dome himself.

“I’d hate to see it go,” he says.  “I can’t imagine Houston without the Astrodome.”

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