Is it a landmark or not? If so, what kind?
Mayor Annise Parker this week called an effort by the city historical commission to designate the Harris County-owned Astrodome a city landmark “ill-advised,” and said she had no plans to put the item before City Council for approval.
The Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission on Thursday is expected to vote to seek landmark designation for the 48-year-old stadium, where the county currently is carrying out $8 million worth of work, including asbestos abatement and demolition of exterior pedestrian towers added in the late 1980s.
City Attorney David Feldman said that if the commission votes to start the designation process, “the Astrodome would be subject to the requirement to get a ‘certificate of appropriateness’ for almost any activity affecting the exterior of the structure, including demolition, unless the county establishes that the ordinance does not apply to them.”
The historic preservation ordinance specifically applies to property owned by “a political subdivision of the state of Texas; provided such entities are not otherwise exempted from this article by law.”
In a memo sent to City Council members on Monday, however, Parker suggested it would be inappropriate for the city to impose landmark status on a building owned by another governmental entity.
“While a resolution supporting preservation of the Astrodome might have my support, the Astrodome is a Harris County facility, and imposing a city historic designation on it without approval of the property owner would be unprecedented,” Parker wrote.
The historic landmark idea came up shortly after the election. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has said it likely won’t make any difference since the main thing that designation does is put a halt on demolition for 90 days, and as we know they’re in no hurry to do anything permanent. There are other possibilities as well.
Meanwhile, a separate effort is afoot to get the Dome designated a national historic landmark, which would make it eligible for federal funding and also for designation as a state historic landmark – like the Alamo – which would bar demolition.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” said Cynthia Neely, who helped prepare an application to nominate the 1965 stadium for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Texas Historical Commission approved the application in October. Neely said she expects the National Park Service to add it to the register in January.
Ms. Neely has a long history with Astrodome advocacy. I think I remember seeing something about the Texas Historical Commission taking action, but this is the first I can recall hearing about the National Register of Historic Places possibly being involved. If that happens, I wonder what the implications would be for any private investors that may be lurking out there. Like I said, it’s complicated.