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Is this the plan that will save the Dome?

Maybe.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

A few months ago Ed Emmett had a breakthrough moment about how to save the Astrodome, a goal he’s been chipping away at for the better part of eight years. The Harris County judge was driving out of the county administration building lot headed straight for the historic 1910 courthouse in downtown, and he thought, “There’s a building we completely re-purposed without bond money.”

Meanwhile, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation was mulling over a 38-page report by the Urban Land Institute outlining details for transforming the Astrodome into an indoor park with 1,200 parking spaces underneath it. What remained unclear was how to fund it.

And that’s where Emmett’s idea comes in. His plan has now become the blueprint for a public-private partnership overseen by a conservancy that would unite the city, county, the sports and convention corporation and other governmental entities with private investors to revive the Astrodome without requiring voter approval. Under the conservancy model, Emmett said, the Dome would earn tax credits, which would help significantly with covering expenses for renovation.

The details for the partnership – and who will commit to covering what percentage of the costs – are being discussed in meetings between representatives of various stakeholders, including during a session on Tuesday and another one scheduled for Friday.

The finished funding plan will come before county officials likely before year’s end, and, if the majority of the five-member Commissioners Court backs the proposal, the Astrodome revival will commence.

[…]

The two newest commissioners, Jack Cagle and Jack Morman, said in interviews Tuesday that they might ultimately support a conservancy to oversee a Dome project; however, neither could say for certain without reviewing the actual proposal.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he would want to hear comments from the public, adding that “a plan that does not involve taxpayers’ money is certainly going in the right direction.”

Commissioner El Franco Lee expressed wholehearted backing for Emmett’s new strategy.

“I support and am pushing for the conservancy approach,” he said. “It gives philanthropic givers an opportunity to participate, and it takes us down the road much faster by doing some creative things.”

Lee said participants in the conservancy discussions are fully aware that the majority on Commissioners Court does not support taxpayer money going toward the Astrodome project, and he said the planning group will certainly keep that in mind as it crafts a proposal.

“At this point, I’m very optimistic,” Emmett said, “that it’s going to happen without a bond issue. That’s the direction we’re moving in. People seem to be coalescing around the idea of re-purposing the Dome as a green space, adding parking underneath, and adding a conservancy to oversee the upper parts.”

That’s the key right there, no bond issue, which would mean no vote need be taken. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of reason to be optimistic about any further Dome-related votes, so avoiding that would be a big deal. As Judge Emmett notes, this is the same concept that the Houston Zoo and Discovery Green use. That would require some kind of board that would be responsible for management and – more importantly – funding, with some operations money coming from the county and likely the city. I expect that would be easy enough to work out. This makes so much sense that you have to wonder why no one thought of it before. Better late than never, I guess. What do you think about this? Texas Leftist has more.

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11 Comments

  1. Paul kubosh says:

    How do the investors get their money back? I am pretty sure they are not doing it for free. I.bet you we guaranty a 30 year lease for millions of dollars. The city has wanted to.do.the same thi.g with the Municipal/justice complex. The catch was the multimillion deal.

  2. Steven Houston says:

    I get the desire to avoid a vote, voters turned down dropping a couple hundred million to save the dome last time, and I get the idea that it is going to cost tens of millions to dismantle, though I can’t shake the belief those numbers were greatly inflated on purpose. As an individual well versed in finance, both public and private sector, at least according to my graduate school committee decades ago, I’m curious how many out there really think this latest idea is going to lack a significant public fund contribution and guarantee to any investors.

    Using the Houston Zoo model, we know the city pays a management fee of $9+ million per year and it increases each year, the bulk of private funding coming from a small handful of donors. The city also contributed the entire initial capital investment and has other ways of funneling money and resources as it sees fit just as the zoo pays no taxes. The Dome, on the other hand, has been continually decaying for a very long time and needs huge capital expenditures just to render it safe, never mind “re-envisioning it” into something it was never intended to be. The nearly $300 million recommended several years ago that voters nixed is almost certainly much higher now plus the desired upgrades and lack of big oil donors to come and save the day with deep pockets means increasing amounts of taxpayer money would be needed. The suggestion that a souvenir shop, concession stand, and small number of people willing to contribute pocket change will fund anything of significance is curious at best.

    So a lack of bond money is not the be all, end all of fiscally conservation folks, merely a way for the same old players to get their way despite voters making it clear they wanted no part of it.

  3. Paul Kubosh says:

    Steven, you know I hate tooting your horn but well said.

  4. Steven Houston says:

    PK, I rather think that you like all the times we agree on things and embrace that we agree despite our differences or arriving at the same conclusion from a different angle. I know that’s how I feel about some of your posts (and those of others).

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    Steven,

    I agree with your assessment. This is just a 4th and long attempt to circumvent the voters, who I believe have spoken. With apologies to RR, Mr. Emmett, tear down this dome.

  6. Jules says:

    wasn’t the vote to turn it into a convention center? I can’t think of anything more boring than that.

  7. Steven Houston says:

    Jules, would you support such a plan if it was more “exciting” in some manner? Obviously there are no private sector developers willing to have anything to do with it unless all or most of the financial risk is removed, a good sign that any potential plan lacks true viability.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    Hey, I’ve got an idea….maybe we can get the Export-Import Bank to guarantee loans for the redevelopment of the Dome.

    [end sarcasm]

  9. Jules says:

    I like the idea or turning it into a skeleton/park. I may have actually voted for the boring convention center, I don’t remember.

  10. robert says:

    “IF” Houston was serious about public transportation (any other rail besides light rail) it could be a southern terminus station. Think of how awesome other cities have turned old rail stations into hubs of business for commuters, even though the below stations were once great stations restored….. it would be a great use for the Dome…imho

    Los Angeles Union Station
    Cincinnati Union Terminal
    Union Station, Washington, D.C
    Union Station, Kansas City
    Union Station, Chicago
    Union Station, Utica NY
    30th Street Station, Philadelphia
    Santa Fe Depot, San Diego
    Union Station, Denver
    New Haven Union Station
    Union Station, Worcester MA
    Union Station, Portland OR
    Amtrak Station, Greensboro NC
    Main Street Station, Richmond VA
    Baltimore Penn Station
    Amtrak Train Station, Barstow, CA
    San Juan Capistrano Depot, CA
    Santa Fe Depot, San Bernardino
    Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center, TX
    Hamlet Passenger Depot, Hamlet NC
    Alvarado Transportation Center, Albuquerque, NM
    Texas and Pacific Railroad Depot, Marshall, TX
    King Street Station, Seattle

  11. Tory says:

    “This makes so much sense that you have to wonder why no one thought of it before. ”

    June 2010
    “Let a non-profit run it and evolve it bottom-up as they try out innovative ideas and raise funding (like they do now at the Zoo). ”
    http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2010/06/astrodome-plan-questions-and-better.html
    😉