HOUSTON -- Giant construction cranes tower over what used to be a parking lot on the University of Houston Central Campus. Under a tree on a patch of grass next to the construction site, a senior dance major named Vi Dieu watches workers building what will become Houston's newest sports stadium.
"It's coming together," he says. "It's almost complete."
When the university tore down its venerable art deco stadium to make room for the new sports palace, Dieu didn't especially mind. Just the price of progress, he figured. But when he considers what might become of another old stadium just a few miles away, he's bothered.
"I kind of like The Astrodome, though," Dieu says. "It served its purpose. It's one of Houston's great feats. People know about Astrodome Houston."
Opinions on the Astrodome's future are almost as passionate in Houston as opinions about Matt Schaub, the quarterback who plays in the stadium next door to it. But Dieu's opinion is emblematic of a trend turning up in the latest poll on the dome's fate, a factor that may help save the dome.
The fate of the Astrodome rests with voters who'll decide whether Harris County should borrow $217-million to convert the dormant building into a multi-purpose event center for everything from conventions and trade shows to small concerts. The bond issue would raise property taxes on the owner of a $200,000 home an estimated $8 a year.
The KHOU 11 News - KUHF News Election Poll shows 45% of surveyed voters favor the bond issue, while 35% oppose it and 20% are undecided. That's very good news for dome supporters, because the poll numbers indicate they need to win over only one out of four undecided voters.
"And there are, what, 20% that are still undecided?" says Dene Hofheinz, who's helping spearhead the campaign to save the dome. "We still have a little bit of work to do. We still have a little bit of work to do. I feel very confident about it, though. I really do."
Hofheinz, whose father Roy was the county judge credited with building The Astrodome, joined county officials who recently announced the formation of a political action committee to pass the referendum.
The poll turned up some demographic curiosities. Anglos and Hispanics are more likely to support the referendum than African-Americans. And voters upbeat about the city's future are more likely to support saving the dome.
But perhaps the most unexpected result popped out of data about the age of people who back the referendum. Earlier surveys showed voters old enough to have seen games at the Astrodome were more likely to support saving it, while younger voters leaned toward demolishing it.
"That age difference has disappeared," says Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who conducted the poll. "I suspect it's because the proposal that's before the voters that we read them is not to just save the Astrodome, but to convert it into some type of economic development. The justification here is that fixing up the Astrodome won't just cost us money, it will make us money."
So the support of younger people like Dieu may give an unexpected boost to the campaign to save the dome.
"Whenever I drive out the freeway, I just like seeing it," he says. "It's like. 'Look: Houston's Astrodome!'"