HOUSTON -- Alas, the Astrodome's fate now rests with voters.
The future of the landmark stadium that revolutionized American sports rides on the outcome of a $217-million bond issue that would bankroll a renovation and save the most famous building in Houston history.
If Harris County voters pass the measure, the dome will be converted into a giant venue for conventions, exhibitions and small sporting events. If voters reject it, the world's first domed stadium will probably be demolished.
Whatever happens won't come cheap. The renovation plan would raise property taxes on an average $200,000 Harris County home by about $8 a year, but of course, owners of larger properties would pay more. If the referendum fails, the cheapest cost estimate for destroying the dome is $29-million.
"That's money that the county's going to have to find," says Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. "It might have some short term borrowing, it may be able to take it out of reserve funds. But it's money that the county would have spent on something else, hopefully something else that we all wanted. What do you get for tearing down the Astrodome for 30-million dollars? A pile of rubble."
The renovation plan drawn up by the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which it calls "The New Dome Experience," would take about 2 ½ years to complete. Officials plan to have it finished in time for the 2017 Super Bowl scheduled for Reliant Stadium, adjacent to the Astrodome. Aerial shots of both structures were shown during Sunday night's nationally televised game between the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts.
A political action committee formed by county political leaders and other dome supporters has bankrolled a campaign to pass the referendum. Skeptics have spoken out on local talk radio shows, but there's been no organized opposition.
"Do I want to be the one that says, 'Well, okay, we're just going to take down this structure that's unique in the world?'" says Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. "I don't think anybody really wanted to do that."
The Astrodome's future has been a vexing political issue for Emmett as long as he's served as county judge. Just leaving it standing has been an expensive proposition that's cost Harris County between $2-million and $3-million a year. No one has used the facility for anything but storage space since 2009.
On Saturday, the private group that manages the Reliant Stadium-Astrodome complex held what it described as a "garage sale" of memorabilia, including seats, lockers and chunks of Astroturf. The event attracted crowds of thousands lining up before dawn.
The 400,000 square foot domed stadium, built under the supervision of former Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz, was dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it opened in 1965. Some baseball fans speculated nobody would ever hit a home run out of the park, but Mickey Mantle proved them wrong during the very first game played under the dome.
Turnout for the referendum has been heavy, probably driven higher by get-out-the-vote campaigns by candidates for Houston mayor and city council.