By Chris Daigle
Since I’m doing things with one hand these days [after a stroke], I wondered what it would be like to work a Rubik’s Cube with one hand. Pretty difficult, I’d guess.
That’s what it’s been like with Houston’s Astrodome. Ever since it shut down 20 years ago, lots of high-minded people have suggested what should be done with the place, now that every team has its own stadium with lots of luxury seating and a product name the Astrodome never had.
Even with 20 years of ideas swirling around, and there have been some doozies, the Astrodome Conservancy will now poll the populace for new ideas on what to do with the abandoned Eighth Wonder Of The World that sits forlorn and forgotten, like that last puppy nobody wants to adopt.
Before you submit “turn the Astrodome into a 250 screen multiplex,” bear in mind that any renovation project has to be paid for with private money, since a public vote in 2013 failed. It has to be self-sustaining financially, oriented toward entertainment (versus a medical center) and must be supported by the public.
So far, the answer has been, “Good luck with that.” In 2013 there was an enthusiastic “Save The Dome” campaign ahead of a public ballot on a $217 million plan to make the Dome a convention center. After plenty of “No” votes, but with a good amount of “Yes”, the public didn’t want its tax dollars spent on the Dome – it would be like putting new fenders on a ’65 Chevy. Private investors have failed to step forward on any project to rescue the Eighth Wonder Of The World, including super billionaire Tillman Fertitta.
I’ll jump ahead and save you a lot of getting worked up, which you will do. I am one of you, cheering at the guardrail like a 1978 “Luv Ya’ Blue” Oilers fan with blue paint and an Oilers wig on, so I can predict what the ground breaking result of this will bring: Nothing.
The Astrodome is designated a “national Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s a State Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At this rate, it might be on the Register Of Holes in the Ground.
The Texas Historical Commission has metaphorically lashed itself to the Astrodome like a tree hugger perched in a threatened oak tree. The Commission says, “Unless you have a good plan and good money behind an Astrodome plan, keep your mitts off the building and don’t even think of tearing it down.”
The Astrodome Conservancy has a website called, “Future Dome”, where the public is invited to submit ideas, once again, on what to do with the structure. Will they get more workable ideas than flooded Ed Emmett’s email box for twenty years? Time will tell. It’s hard to imagine what will come up that hasn’t been floated, or sunk, since the Dome shut its doors oh so long ago. It’s now a storage barn for the NRG stadium next door, as well as Harris County. It couldn’t have events anyway, since the seats were sold off five years ago.
Ideas are coming in faster than an Earl Campbell running play. There have been, and will be, plans on making it an indoor Astroworld, a movie studio, a Texas museum, a water park and there’s even a serious idea to dismantle the Battleship Texas and put it in there. Yes, really.
Professional sports is out of the question, as now every sport (basketball, football, baseball, soccer, hockey and universities) have their own stadium with a product name and luxury seats. Well, maybe not cricket, bocci ball, golf, or jai alai, so there’s hope. The Harris County Commissioner’s Court set aside $105 million dollars from hotel fees and parking revenue in early 2018 to convert the Dome into an underground parking garage, with event space at ground level. The village in Houston exclaimed with glee, even holding a “Domecoming” in April 2018 to give us a last look at the 1965 Astrodome.
That project went POOF when Lina Hidalgo was elected County Judge in late 2018. Suddenly, any Astrodome renovation was shelved. Hidalgo was more interested in flood relief, social issues, justice reform, and protecting voting rights. Now combined with a year long pandemic, the Astrodome may as well not exist.
The Astrodome Conservancy leaders did meet recently with Hidalgo. They report that the Judge said, “Okay, come up with a solid plan for the Dome, and good financing, and we’ll talk about it someday.” Sounds like a blowoff to me, but before 1965, who but Roy Hofheinz could imagine a stadium with a roof? Would it surprise you to know that the Houston Rodeo and Houston Texans have never supported a Dome plan, though it would benefit both of them? They’d rather see it gone.
Meanwhile, the Astrodome, and billions of fan memories, lies in state 100 feet away from Houston’s trophy wife, NRG stadium. Ironically, a historic marker to the Dome was intentionally placed facing its replacement, like a symbolic fist raised in the air. There’s been so much propaganda that the Dome is not safe, but it’s perfectly sound. There’s also been so much hype that the Astrodome is a financial white elephant, yet it was paid for years ago.
There was so much noise when the 2013 vote was to tear the Dome down, Judge Ed Emmett said demolition MAY be an option. The media and public ran with it.
The biggest idea for resuscitating the Dome that fits all the criteria of financial stability, sustainable income, and public support, is converting it into a casino and hotel and resort. That can’t happen because our state leaders are steadfastly against legalizing gambling. They are too busy telling us how and when to wear a mask.
My enthusiasm for the Astrodome is hotter than a thousand suns, so is most of Texas, but this is getting old. Even for me. We go from being nervous about the future to overjoyed when a plan appears, then nervous again when that plan fails. This is a lot like the boy that cried wolf, but with a whole state.
In this day of new construction everywhere, the irony is that it could happen for the Astrodome, but it doesn’t. Tillman Fertitta, super billionaire with a restaurant empire and hotels, also has made a name in entertainment venues in Galveston and Kemah. He’s bought the Houston Rockets franchise with $1.2 billion, with a B. The arena at the University of Houston now bears his name, replacing Hofheinz Pavillion. Tillman Fertitta is certainly no Roy Hofheinz, nor is he trying to be.
For now, we stand at the 50 yard line at the Astrodome to see which team gets to the goal: Renovation? Or tear it down?
The scoreboard’s ticking. The writing’s on the wall.