Harris County commissioners are poised to make their largest investment yet in the Astrodome’s future next week.
They are slated to vote on the first piece of a $105 million plan to raise the ground level two floors to fit in roughly 1,400 parking spaces, which would make the Dome suitable for festivals or conferences and usher in potential commercial uses in the more than 550,000 square feet that surrounds the core.
A majority of the county’s governing body indicated support for the plan Friday. If approved, it would begin to provide a future for the stadium more than 16 years removed from hosting its last Astros last game.
“This is making something happen, finally, with the Dome,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.
Tuesday’s vote would be on whether to allocate $10.5 million of the “design phase” of the parking project. If approved, the county would hire an architectural and engineering team and, over 12 months, lay out the blueprints of the overall project. It’s not another study, Emmett said.
“No, this is actually doing the engineering to raise the floors, put the parking in,” he said.
The county also, for the first time Friday, detailed how it plans to pay for the stadium’s $105 million redevelopment. Budget officer Bill Jackson said about one-third of the project, or roughly $35 million, would come from the county’s general fund, made up largely of property tax revenue.
Another third would come from hotel taxes, with the remaining third coming from county parking revenues. These new covered spaces inside the Dome could generate top dollar.
Emmett noted the general fund component, around $30 million, is roughly equivalent to the amount the county estimates it would cost to demolish the Dome. In other words, money the county would have to spend even if it wanted to get rid of the facility.
Currently, the Dome costs close to $170,000 a year to maintain, Jackson said.
“There are some that just really don’t want to save the Dome. They want it torn down,” Emmett said. “This saves it in a very conservative way that makes it useful and preserves options for the future.”
There are still several unknowns. It’s possible, Jackson said, that after the design phase, the cost for construction might push the project above the $105 million goal, at which point commissioners would have to decide whether to move forward.
What happens to the 550,000 square feet of space surrounding the area where the field was is also still not firmed up. Emmett said it likely will be hammered out over the next year.
The plan still would have to be approved by the state historical commission, which currently considers the Astrodome a “state antiquities landmark,” meaning it cannot be “removed, altered, damaged, salvaged, or excavated without a permit from the Texas Historical Commission,” a spokesman said.
See here, here, and here for the background. It sounds like the Texans and the Rodeo aren’t fully on board with this, but I don’t know that it’s worth worrying about that. The idea behind this is that once the underground parking is available, then other redevelopment plans for the Dome become more feasible. I guess we’ll find out. The Chron editorial board, which supports the plan, has more.