It’s a convention center, it’s a movie studio, it’s a planetarium.
Add a planetarium to the myriad ideas for what to do with the Reliant Astrodome, Houston’s iconic stadium whose future has hung in uncertainty as officials and entrepreneurs have proposed new uses ranging from a casino to a movie studio.
The latest idea, a study of which was proposed by Commissioner El Franco Lee, is to turn part of the 44-year-old Astrodome into a planetarium or a medical or science institute, leaving additional space for some other public use. Commissioners Court will vote Tuesday on whether to spend $50,000 for a feasibility study of the idea.
“The Astrodome is a world-recognizable space and we want to put it to the highest and best use,” Lee said Friday. “We have been on the cutting edge of several technologies from aerospace to medicine and we would be looking at an educational venue that highlights that.”
Well, there’s a certain poetry to the idea. I have no idea whether this is something that could become self-sufficient, but it’s probably worth spending the money to do the feasibility study. At least we might get a definitive answer one way or the other, unlike the other concepts, which have been in limbo for what feels like forever.
Judge Ed Emmett, who had been skeptical of plans to pay for the convention hotel, said he supports the planetarium idea because it focuses on public use. It also would leave space in the facility for other features, such as a gathering space for festivals or concerts.
“My main interest is to turn the Astrodome into something that can be used by the public,” Emmett said. “The question of funding is always going to be an issue, but basically cleaning up the dome and using it as an open space that you put other things into is very different than turning the whole thing into a hotel.”
County officials this summer will begin seriously to study the various ideas and eventually could take the question of what to do with the Astrodome to voters.
“We waited to see what happened in the legislative session and we will begin to talk about all this,” Emmett said. “At some point, if we come up with enough ideas that are public use, we might ask voters.”
I’m glad there’s momentum to get something official put forward. I’ll be very interested to see how a vote might go – it’s not clear to me that there’s that much more support for preservation than there is for demolition. The longer this goes on, the smaller the share of the population that actually has fond memories of the Dome in its glory. I wouldn’t count on nostalgia to give any future renovation proposal that much of a boost.