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On the uses of the New Dome

So it’s looking pretty good for the Astrodome renovation referendum. But what exactly will we get if it does pass? In particular, will the New Dome be economically sustainable in a way that the current one is not?

To date, Harris County and Reliant Park officials have offered little more than verbal assurances the New Dome would be an economic winner.

The closest thing to a fiscal analysis that has been released since the Harris County Commissioners Court voted in August to put the bond proposal to voters came a month later on a single sheet of paper brought to a Houston Chronicle editorial board meeting. Projections on the paper show a converted Astrodome would generate $1.9 million a year – $4 million in revenue, minus $2.1 million in expenses.

The $4 million includes usage fees, concessions, parking and revenue from “incremental” naming rights. The $1.9 million net income likely would be spent on utilities or other operating costs, but officials say they are certain the facility would pay its own way.

“The goal, at the very minimum, is to break even,” said Edgar Col√≥n, chairman of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., which devised the New Dome plan.

Consultants the sports corporation hired to devise various reuse plans found last year that “all options have operating shortfalls,” including a multipurpose facility virtually identical to the New Dome plan.

A sports corporation list of potential uses of the New Dome spans more than four pages. Major events include fan parties during the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four, as well as Wrestlemania.

The list of new prospects, everything from a Star Wars Convention to the Junior Olympic Games, is much longer than the one of existing events that could locate there, which includes only the annual Offshore Technology Conference and the Mecum Auto Auction.

The OTC, which has outgrown Reliant Center, has said it would use the New Dome.

The economic argument officials make the most is akin to “Build it and they will come.”

“You put together a facility that is unique in the world and then you go out and sell it, and that’s what we have here,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who said the new venue would spur hotel and other development in the area.

[…]

Even if the New Dome is not an economic boon, Emmett has suggested that expecting it to break even is not a reasonable goal, comparing it to a public park.

“There are a lot of things that government does that provides an asset or a service to the taxpayers that doesn’t necessarily pay for itself,” he said in his September newsletter.

The “public park” angle is interesting, and it makes some sense. I don’t recall it being brought up before now, which is the sort of thing that can come back and bite you afterward. I look at it this way: The current Dome is costing us something like $2 million a year, and we’re getting no use out of it. If what we build winds up costing less, never mind breaking even, and we get some use out of it, it’s a win. If it does wind up breaking even, so much the better. People clearly find value in the preservation of the Dome, which is a part of Houston’s identity in a way that few other things are, and if we wind up with something that costs a few bucks a year, that’s what we chose to do. Houston Politics has more.

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