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The fault lies not with Commissioners Court

Chron columnist Ken Hoffman fired a shot in his Sunday column.

What to do with the Astrodome? It’s had its day. Let it go before it becomes even more of an embarrassing money pit. Dump the Dome!

M. Meagher, Houston

I figured out why the Astrodome is just sitting there falling into disrepair – because the ones who are making all of the decisions on the fate of the Dome are all men – and men can’t throw anything away!

Judy Koch, Houston

What’s wrong with making the Astrodome into an amusement park? Everyone misses AstroWorld, so why not combine the two venues? With all the young and inventive minds we have here in Houston, I know it would be great!

Laura Knowles, Houston

Seen any unicorns lately? Stop expecting the politicians in charge to do anything with the Dome. They will let it rot there, burning millions of dollars each year. They don’t care. They’re political cowards. I dare them to take action on improving or renovating or removing the Dome.

And in short order, fire was returned.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett responded to my note last week calling county officials “political cowards” for allowing the Astrodome to rot and become an eyesore burden on taxpayers.

Emmett wrote: “We have set a deadline – June 10 – for all of those with ideas for the Dome to come forward with the finances to support their ideas. If none have finances, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. is to present their suggestion for the future of the Dome on June 25. I wish you had taken the opportunity to report what is actually happening rather than just calling us names.”

I have to go easy here, because Emmett is one of our most effective officials – and I bump into him at Bubbles Car Wash. But give me a break. You’re just getting around to this now? Architects began work on Reliant Stadium in 1997. Groundbreaking took place on March 9, 2000. The Astros moved to Minute Maid Park later that month. That was more than 13 years ago. County officials have done nothing since then to renovate the Astrodome, find another use for it or tear the sucker down. Emmett has been Harris County judge since 2007.

The county spends more than $1.5 million a year just on insurance, maintenance, security and utilities at the Dome, which has become a moldy, unusable, condemned home for rats … and the cats who love them. The domed money pit doesn’t have an occupancy permit. In its present condition, it is good for absolutely nothing.

County officials have held meeting after meeting to discuss the Astrodome, but nothing ever gets done. Now two more meetings are scheduled. Whoopee. County officials are like someone who throws a baby in the river, jumps in and saves the baby … and wants a medal. You caused this problem by doing nothing for the past 13 years. You want a medal for having more meetings? Don’t worry about me calling you a political coward. Do something heroic.

OK, hold it right there. The problem with the lack of action on the Astrodome has nothing to do with indecisiveness or an absence of fortitude. It has everything to do with what We The People want, because for the last dozen years or so that’s what Commissioners Court has been trying to provide. If all that was needed was for a politician to Make The Tough Decisions, then the Dome would have been torn down about five minutes after the crowd dispersed from the last Rodeo event was held there. We’ve already established that demolition has always been the fate of unused sports venues, and let’s face it, that’s how we roll around here. Tear it down and figure out the details later – it’s much easier to find a use for an empty lot than for an empty building.

The problem is that We The People have made it abundantly clear to our elected leaders that we do NOT want the Dome torn down. It’s an important piece of Houston history, and many folks have very fond memories of seeing Jose Cruz or Earl Campbell there, and so we want someone to Do Something and transform the Dome into something else so that we can continue to use it or just look at it and revel in all those nice memories. Unfortunately, it will cost a crapload of money to rebirth the Dome as one of those things that people like to suggest it be used for. So far, no one has figured out a way to finance any of these visions, and the county – which is still paying off the debt from the Dome’s last renovations, remember, in addition to the debt from all the shiny new stadia that we have – is understandably reluctant to float a ginormous bond issue on speculation. I for one have a hard time blaming them for that.

And so the only viable course has been to do nothing, funding a few feasibility studies every now and then on the odd chance that you might strike gold, and hope that sooner or later someone will get one of those crazy ideas financed, or less likely that popular opinion will shift and people will come to accept that maybe the Dome will have to go. That appears to be what is happening now, with an assist (or a shove, if you prefer) from the Rodeo and the Texans. We’re about to see what out choices are, and it will be up to us – as it has been all along – to decide what to do.

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3 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    Hoffman is correct.

    And “doing nothing” — ie, waiting for it to fall down — does not meet the definition of “viable course”. Cowardice is precisely the appropriate word for Commissioner’s Court w/r/t the Astrodome.

  2. [...] As before, I’ll side with Judge Emmett on this. Harris County was set to move on a privately-funded plan for the Dome in 2008, but that fell through when the economy bottomed out. Maybe the Court could have acted last year, but not much earlier than that. They also could have waited for another private investor with sufficient capital to step up, but despite the plethora of suggestions for what to do with the Dome, no one with financing in hand has come forward. I don’t know if Eckels and Lindsay can fully quiet the conspiracy-minded, but they ought to muffle them a bit. [...]

  3. curae civem says:

    Your attitude, resplendent with instant gratification ethos, bears witness to a generation which can not image something important unless it is entirely disposable. Why keep an old neighborhood intact when it would be a more useful with set of boxy condos with a nearby strip center because that always adds character? Why refurbish and old hotel when it could be replaced with some glimmering testament to progress and man’s towering triumph over height? Why fix an old car when there are so many new ones? Why keep an old piece of furniture, when there are so many new pieces to be had? Never mind that somethings are inherited, and represent a link to the past and given to us as a legacy which we ought to cherish, protect and preserve; never mind the sanctity and value and honer of being on the receiving end of a valuable gift. Just: It looks old, throw it out. Dump It! What a sad commentary on your valueless outlook when it comes to real treasures. The Dome deserves our respect and our admiration, and our help and support. Why do you insist on spitting on the legacy it represents and how it has enriched our culture? Get on the right side of the the Dome. It’s yours to enjoy.

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