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Astrodome referendum officially on the ballot

It’s been a long, strange trip, but at last you will get to vote on the fate of the Astrodome.

The Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously voted to place a bond election for up to $217 million to convert the iconic stadium into a massive, street-level convention hall and exhibit space, saying residents should take part in deciding the historic structure’s fate.

Should voters reject the bonds, County Judge Ed Emmett and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman said Tuesday they see no other alternative than to demolish the former “Eighth Wonder of the World,” which has sat vacant since city inspectors declared it unfit for occupancy in 2009. The Reliant Astrodome has not housed a professional sports team since the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park in 2000.

“If it does not pass in November, then that should be the death knell for the Dome,” Morman said.

[...]

While the vote to put the measure on the ballot was unanimous, court members’ personal support for the project is not.

Only Emmett and Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee said they definitely will cast a vote in favor of the bond referendum. Both, however, said they have no plans to launch – or, in Emmett’s case, participate in – campaigns to get the measure passed.

“There needs to be some plans made to do it, if it’s going to be a success,” Lee, who wants to save the Dome, said of a campaign. “The judge is our leadership, so we’ll just see what occurs from there.”

The Commissioners Court on Tuesday also approved $8 million for work that needs to be done to the half-century-old stadium regardless of whether it is torn down or renovated. That work includes asbestos abatement, demolition of the exterior spiral walkways and the sale of signs and other salvaged items that qualify as sports memorabilia.

County engineers and consultants, who estimated it would cost $217 million to repurpose the Dome, also determined it would cost $20 million to demolish it, not including the $8 million.

If the bond fails in November, Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said it “would make no sense to me at all” to spend millions of dollars demolishing the structure.

“There’s another day to have another election,” he said. “Why are you going to spend $8 million and then tear it down?”

The vote to call the bond election was made with one condition championed by Radack: That the ballot language explicitly say that the project would require an increase to the county property tax rate, which has not been raised in 17 years.

See here for the last update. We were headed towards a referendum in 2008 back when Astrodome Redevelopment was proposing a convention center as the Dome replacement, but the economic collapse knocked that off track, and so here we are now. The big question at this point is who lines up to oppose this. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, whose renovation plan is what the Court approved for the ballot, will take the lead in communicating the referendum and the reasons to vote for it to the public. I have no idea how much money they’ll have to mount a real campaign, however. It’s certainly possible that some deep-pocketed types could show up to fund a campaign in favor of this, or in opposition to it. It’s also possible that there will be little more than earned media and some online presence to inform the voters. If I had to guess, I’d say this passes, but who knows? How do you plan to vote on this? Leave a comment and let’s get a totally unscientific data point to bat around. Texpatriate and Swamplot have more.

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9 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    I’ll vote in favor, but unfortunately the majority will vote no. And the responsibility for its failure will rest with Ed Emmett.

    There’s no coherent advocacy organization for the effort. Emmett and El Franco Lee say they’ll vote for it, but neither man is apparently going to do even as much as I will to help it pass. That leaves a vacuum to be filled by the regressives; Harris County TeaBaggers will lather up the Noes and turn them out, slate cards in hand.

    I’m of the mind that Emmett (and by proxy Bob McNair and Joel Cowley) is going to get what he wants: a parking lot. He’s just not going to escape the blame for tearing down the Dome, as he was hoping.

    This is the kind of cowardice Ken Hoffman was talking about.

  2. Brad M. says:

    “Blame” for tearing down a money sinkhole? I don’t think Emmett really give much of a ****. Does it impact him getting a final term as Judge? I doubt it.

    I am about the farthest thing from a teapartier…I will be voting against it. I haven’t seen any revenue models that support this investment.

    Hoffman is a blowhard.

  3. Yvonne Larsen says:

    It seems pretty obvious the Astrodome needs to be torn down so the area can be used as a parking lot for the 2017 Super Bowl…..so the only question is who will pay for the demolition.

  4. [...] addition to the Astrodome and (maybe) Early To Rise referenda, Harris County voters will also get to decide on a jail bond [...]

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    Ah, the problem of what to do with the venerable Astrodome. I guess we shouldn’t bother to look back at HOW the problem was created. Remember when Bud Adams just HAD to have those skybox renovations? Remember how bonds were issued to pay for that, to satisfy Adam’s whining? Those bonds didn’t even get paid off before Bud started whining about a new stadium. HCSA finally grew a pair and told him he could leave if he wasn’t happy with past pandering, and so he did. Good riddance. The mistake made by HCSA was in giving in to a new football stadium to attract a new team. Eventually, a team would have landed here, the 4th largest city in the country, WITHOUT building a new stadium, and consequently, hitting up Harris County taxpayers when it turned out that soaking the out-of-towners with the hotel/rental car robbery tax wasn’t enough.

    The demise of the Astrodome was sealed when HCSA decided to build a new stadium, right next to a very functional EXISTING stadium. The fact that the existing stadium wasn’t even paid for yet just makes that decision even worse. So that leaves Harris County taxpayers with no real choice….throw more money into a sinking hole, or throw money to fill the hole by demolishing the Astrodome, which is what should happen. Let that be a testament to and an example of wanton waste and greed. People should be chapped, knowing that bond payments are still being made on a building that isn’t even there anymore. Maybe elected leaders that have control over the HCSA will reign them in in the future, although at this point, that’s much like locking the barn door after all the cows get out.

  6. [...] we find that there will be a PAC, no doubt created by the Sports & Convention Corp as I suggested, to get this sucker passed. Perhaps that will put PDiddie‘s mind more at ease. I personally [...]

  7. [...] on the ballot is a referendum to determine the fate of the Astrodome. Many ideas were submitted by the public, but in the end the [...]

  8. Karl ittmann says:

    How about 200 million for health care infrastructure or sidewalks/bike trails/mass transit.? I say vote no on this and any future Reliant funding. Bob Mcnair’s franchise is worth well north of 1 billion, let them pay.

  9. There was really no real interest from the political establishment and the people to save the Astrodome. Most people are more focused on their own profits and political careers.

    The costly part of the Astrodome is its roof. What needed to be done is take out the roof and use it for a soccer field instead of building two new soccer fields (again it is all about contracts and profits).

    The County can still remove the roof of the Astrodome and use it as a sports field. But they and others are really not interested in saving it but are more interested in more contracts and more debt.

    In bad economic times it is preposterous to add more bonds to Harris County tax payers.

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