What should be done with the Dome?
HOUSTON -- From the highs of Houston sports to the lows of human misery after Hurricane Katrina, the Houston Astrodome has been home to history -- but it’s now vacant and eroding before our eyes.
KHOU 11 News was granted access into the 47-year-old landmark, but not before signing forms releasing the county and Reliant from any sort of liability.
The structure no longer has a certificate of occupancy, and even though it hasn’t been used in four years, it’s costing the county $2 million to $3 million a year in maintenance fees.
Reliant Park General Manager Mark Miller escorted us through what’s been called "the eighth wonder of the world."
"You still walk out here and it’s still impressive, the roof to the Dome, the feel of the Dome, it’s just an impressive structure," said Miller, as we walked out under the skylights. "They’ve been working on the turf."
The turf is just one of the issues Reliant is dealing with right now. A pipe burst on the eighth floor, drenching it. When we were there, crews were rolling it up, because it’s soaking wet.
The seats are caked in dust, and many of them are torn with the padding sticking out.
"It needs a lot of repair, it needs a lot of work," said Miller.
From the field, we headed to the former Astros locker room, and on the way passed through the lower concourse, which is now being used as storage.
"That is probably sideline turf from the Oilers," Miller pointed out as we made our way through the Astrodome.
Only some power is on, so we had to use the light from our camera to see the frayed insulation.
"That’s probably forklift damage more than anything else," said Miller.
But the damage we found in the locker room wasn’t done by a forklift.
"This is vandalism. Somebody has broken in and broken out all the windows in here," said Miller.
There was broken glass all over the floor and muddy footprints throughout the room.
It smelled like dry powder from a fire extinguisher that someone must have set off.
There was white powder all over place.
"This is the first time I’ve seen them do so much malicious damage. I don’t see them breaking things so much, but someone was obviously mad at the glass," said Miller.
We found a drink coupon dated Feb. 25, 2012, on the floor of the locker room, so it appears as if people were recently in there.
In our two and a half hours in the Astrodome, we looked through many of the offices. Some of them were a mess. The false ceiling had collapsed in one of the rooms.
We found a rodeo brochure from 1999, a ticket to an early 2000s Gallery Furniture Bowl and a phone book from 1998.
We also found several posters of former Houston Astro Darryl Kile.
But, there were some areas that didn’t appear damaged. The Oilers locker room showers were rusted, but there was no damage to the room itself. The suites were still in good condition, with the couches and pillows still inside.
Still, the big question remains: What happens to the Astrodome now?
In order for the county to "deal" with the Astrodome, which cost $36 million to build, the cost to taxpayers will be hundreds of millions of dollars.
Just to tear it down will cost $120 million.
"It’s money. It costs a lot of money. You know, we still owe more. The taxpayers still owe more on the Dome than it cost to build in the first place. To really do anything with it, it is going to cost upwards of $350 million," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.
Emmett is awaiting results of a half-million-dollar study that consultants are working on to come up with a viable plan for the Dome. The report should be presented to commissioners in the next few weeks.
Ideas include clearing out the asbestos, knocking it down and creating a festival plaza, turning it into a multi-purpose center or creating the Astrodome Renaissance, which could include a planetarium.
"Knowing the county budget the way I do, and knowing the various cost options with the Dome, even tearing it down, I don’t see we do that without some sort of bond election," said Emmett.
So ultimately, and possibly soon, it will be up to the taxpayers to decide the future of the building that’s said to have put Houston on the map.
"It is a decision we have to make. I, for one, think it’s insulting to the facility and the community to leave it there rusting like some old ship that’s washed up on a beach somewhere," said Emmett.