Groups hopeful about Houston Astrodome's future

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Associated Press

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:03 AM

HOUSTON (AP) — Preservation groups and others said Wednesday that they're hopeful a pending application to designate the famed Houston Astrodome as a "state antiquities landmark" will help revitalize efforts to revamp the stadium and save it from potential demolition.

While the Astrodome is not in any immediate danger of being torn down after voters last year didn't authorize $217 million in bonds to turn it into a multipurpose special events center, its future remains uncertain.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called a meeting Wednesday with various stakeholders with an interest in the stadium's future to update them on where things stand. Emmett said what's lacking is not ideas on revamping the Astrodome, but the financing to make them a reality.

"We still have private groups coming saying, 'We have money. We'll do this, that and the other.' I'm waiting for somebody to actually show up with the money. They haven't," he said.

Various ideas over the years to refurbish the Astrodome — from water park to sports memorabilia museum — have gained little traction.

The stadium has been closed since 2009. Efforts to save the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World gained momentum after an advisory committee of the Texas Historical Commission voted late last month to recommend that it get the antiquities designation. The commission is expected to make a final decision during its meeting on July 30-31.

If the Astrodome is designated a state antiquities landmark, any proposals to alter or demolish it would have to be approved by the commission. While the designation would not bar demolition, preservation groups say it would provide an extra layer of protection against it.

Emmett said he's in favor of reusing the Astrodome but any proposals would have to be paid through private sector funding.

Beth Wiedower, senior field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one of various groups working to save the Astrodome, said her organization is working to find investors across the country.

"The building is revered and loved by folks. I feel very positive we will find a solution to reuse and preserve the Astrodome," she said.

The pending state antiquities designation comes after the National Park Service added the Astrodome to its National Register of Historic Places.

Wiedower said the federal and state designations trigger tax incentives and access to grant funding. But she said such grant funding has been significantly cut in recent years.

Opened in 1965, the Astrodome hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009. While still structurally sound, the iconic stadium had fallen into disrepair. Stadium seats, pieces of AstroTurf and other Astrodome items were sold to the public late last year.

The stadium's most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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