HOUSTON -- Would you pay good money to give the Astrodome a bath?
Ever since those pictures from inside the deteriorating dome hit the airwaves last year, we've heard a lot about the sad images taken in the most famous building in Houston. But the truth is the outside of the Astrodome is looking might grungy.
Look at it from a distance and the dome still looks impressive. But look closer and you'll see decades of dirt and grime crusted on the outside of the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
It's especially notable when compared to pictures of the Astrodome during its heyday, with its gleaming white walls and roof.
Now, some of the people trying to save the dome from demolition are collecting donations to give it a good power washing.
"It's structurally sound," said Chris Alexander, the head of a non-profit group called Astrodome Tomorrow. "It's a robust building. It has a lot of life left in it. A pressure washing will clean it up on the outside."
Alexander has drawn up his own elaborate plans for the Astrodome complex, including a park built over underground parking lots and a monorail zipping around the property.
He estimates it would cost around $800 million and he still hasn't figured out exactly how the county would pay for it. But in the short term, he figures cleaning up the dome's exterior would be a good idea no matter what eventually happens.
“It might be one or two years before construction starts on anything, if something happens out there," he said. "In that time, there's going to be football season, there's going to be rodeo. There's going to be OTC. There's going to be events and people going out to the park. And a power washing -- say if we could do it this summer sometime -- would make the dome pretty and more attractive and more pleasant for all the people going to the events between now and the time that something bigger happens."
And although Alexander doesn't like to dwell on it, even destroying the dome would take years. Washing the stadium's exterior would make it less of an eyesore in the interim.
Alexander's cramped apartment in the Montrose area is cluttered with artifacts of his obsession with the Astrodome, including two scale models of his plans for the complex. Sketches and notes line the walls and his laptop is loaded with drawings and documents. He's now preparing a presentation for the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., which is soliciting ideas for the dome's future.
County officials have set a June 10 deadline for groups to present their concepts for the Astrodome. A recommendation is expected to go before Harris County Commissioners Court on June 25.
Everybody seems to have an idea about what should become of the empty stadium, but top county officials have repeatedly said they've yet to see an economically viable plan to preserve the dome. Although they're not saying it publicly, many of them are privately skeptical that anybody will come forward with a plan that makes financial sense.
Alexander’s idea to wash the dome received a polite but non-committal response from county commissioners, but he’s pressing ahead with plans to raise $500,000 in private donations. He’s also hoping private contractors might give the county a discount for such a high-profile contract.
"So it's going to be returned to a really, really brilliant reflective state, which I can't wait to see," he said.