Harris County commissioners approved the first piece of a $105 million plan to transform the stadium into part parking garage and part event space for things like concerts and trade shows.
After years of indecision, advocates for preserving the Dome are hailing the move as one that might breath new life into the stadium’s future long after many Houstonians had written its obituary.
“We’re really happy to see some concrete action taken,” said David Bush, acting executive director of Preservation Houston, which has been advocating for the Dome’s preservation for 16 years. “This is a significant first step.”
The $105 million plan, first unveiled by county officials in June, calls for the floor of the Astrodome to be raised two floors, or 30 feet, to ground level. Two levels of parking or 1400 spaces will be installed underneath.
The new ground floor could be used by conferences like the Offshore Technology Conference, or for music festivals or other events. Officials from OTC wrote a letter earlier this month in support of the plan with the Houston Auto Show, Houston International Boat, Sport and Travel Show and the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market, a ballet fundraiser, among others.
In the future, the 550,000 square feet that surrounds the core could be used for retail, commercial or other options, though none have been determined yet.
No events have yet made any formal commitments to use the re-purposed dome, a point acknowledged by Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke whose precinct includes the Astrodome.
“I’m more confident that doing this is better than doing nothing,” he said.
Despite Tuesday’s vote, not everything is final. [County Judge Ed] Emmett and other county officials believe as the $105 million project enters the design phase, the overall price tag will go down, especially if other funding sources like Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds or tax credits can apply.
But the cost could also go beyond $105 million, something several commissioners have said they will watch out for.
Regardless, commissioners will have to vote again likely next year to spend the rest of the money on the actual construction.
See here for the preview. To address some things I’ve seen here and elsewhere, the point of this is to begin the process of making the Astrodome viable for other uses, whatever those may turn out to be. The extra parking would presumably make the space more amenable for the Texans and the Rodeo as well, though those two entities have remained firmly uncommitted to the whole idea so far. As there is no money being borrowed to pay for this, there is no need to hold a public vote. If and when we get to a point where financing is needed, then there will have to be a referendum to get the public’s approval to borrow the money – in other words, a bond referendum. While the rejected 2013 referendum was often seen as a vote for demolition, it was in the strictest sense just a rejection of that financing/renovation plan. Not everyone will agree with that last statement, of course. If you’re one of those people, you’ll either get another chance to vote against a bond issuance, or you’ll get to (have to) take comfort in the knowledge that any financing will be done by a private entity.
In the meantime, there’s always the possibility that the bill will go up once design phase begins, which may lead to further reckoning. If we get past that with no worrisome cost estimate increase, then Commissioners Court will need to commit to an actual design, of which there have been many. One presumes it would be some version of the Urban Land Institute plan, though that isn’t exactly fully-formed, and besides, the county has gone through Astrodome plans like Spinal Tap has gone through drummers, so who knows what we’d get. For now, what we’re getting is underground parking. At least that is something we can all comprehend. KUHF and Swamplot have more.