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County approves Astrodome plan

Like it or not, here it comes.

Take a last look at it

Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with the final design and construction of a $105 million project to transform the cherished piece of Houston’s sporting history into what officials hope will be coveted event space.

“It gives us a huge national story line,” said Holly Clapham, chief marketing officer for Houston First Corp., the city’s main marketing arm. “This, obviously, is a very significant building and we can tell the story of its new life, and serving a new constituency that didn’t know it as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.'”

Construction on the project is expected to begin in October and end in February 2020.

“The first thing we have to do is get it back to where it’s structurally sound,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said after Tuesday’s court meeting. “Nine acres of open space, under cover, in Houston, Texas, is a big deal. We’ve already been contacted by all sorts of groups that want to come use it, so it’s exciting.”

See here and here for some background, though obviously there’s a lot more to this long-lasting story. I like this idea – unlike so many other proposals, this plan makes sense to me, it’s not outrageously expensive, and it keeps the property in the hands of the public. I’m not sure if it will make sense to keep calling it the Astrodome when all is said and done, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.

Not everyone sees this as I do, of course, and we’ll be hearing plenty from them.

State Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who co-sponsored legislation last year that would have required a public referendum on the Astrodome project, called Tuesday’s vote by Commissioners Court “tone deaf.”

“We just need to recognize the obvious,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “If the county has money to ignore a public vote and refurbish the Astrodome, then they have the capability to offer flooded-out homeowners disaster reappraisal and to cut their property tax rate.”

Bettencourt and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have called on local taxing jurisdictions to allow residents whose homes were damaged by Harvey to have their properties reappraised to reflect their lower values.

Through a spokesman, Emmett called Bettencourt’s remarks “ill-informed” and said the project would allow the county to generate revenue for upgrades to the NRG Complex that otherwise would fall on taxpayers.

See here and here for more on the failed bill to require a vote on something that we wouldn’t normally require a vote on, since no bonds are being floated. The preview story goes into the funding source for the remodel.

In response to Harvey, the county is poised to call a bond referendum of at least $1 billion to pay for flood control projects, and Commissioners Court has imposed tougher regulations on new development in floodplains, as well as authorized up to $20 million to facilitate buyouts of Harvey-flooded homes.

Of the $105 million cost to renovate the dome into convention and meeting space, about a third would come from the county’s general fund, largely made up of property tax revenue. The other two sources — hotel occupancy taxes and parking revenue — would not be used for flood control Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

“We’re the third largest county in the country. We’re having to renovate a lot of buildings. This is another building,” Emmett said. “We need to renovate it and make it usable.”

He added that $35 million “does not go very far flood control-wise” when billions of dollars in improvements and repairs are needed.

People are going to have feelings about this, that’s for sure. There’s no direct vote on the Dome plan, but there will be that bond referendum, and Ed Emmett will be on the ballot, so the politics of this could work out in a number of ways. I’ve said my piece. We’ll see what develops from here.

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8 Comments

  1. Flypusher says:

    The best possible scenario is that the Dome gets renovated into a state of productive use. The worst is what’s going on right now-sitting there unused and slowly decaying.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    @Fly:

    What if the highest and best use is demolishing it and paving it over for parking? That eliminates ongoing and perpetual maintenance costs.

  3. C.L. says:

    Dear Ed Emmett,

    Re: “We’ve already been contacted by all sorts of groups that want to come use it…”

    Put up or shut up – who are the ‘all sorts of groups’ that want to come use the Astrodome, and where have they been since 2005 (when it was last used to house Katrina evacuees) ?

  4. C.L. says:

    Whoops, Mr. Emmett, I hit Submit too soon…

    Re: “Through a spokesman, Emmett called Bettencourt’s remarks “ill-informed” and said the project would allow the county to generate revenue for upgrades to the NRG Complex that otherwise would fall on taxpayers.” Who made the boneheaded decisions the resulted in the County taxpayers being on the hook for NRG Complex upgrade costs ? If the complex is owned by the taxpayers, why am I shilling out $10-12 every time I attend an event there ?

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    Totally agree with C.L. You’ve knocked this one out of the park (pun intended).

  6. bob jones says:

    I’m concerned that Ed Emitt is overly locked-in to construction. First, I don’t see how this costs 100M – that is just a typical government bloat number. Two, I don’t see how the CC aren’t getting a kickback. And three, what’s to stop at 100M? Fourth, why are we allowing a parking lot to be built above the floor (i.e. the playing surface) of our newest State of Texas landmark. I thought the point of landmark status was to keep it as is. As is, is a baseball or football stadium. That is preserving history. Regardless, we will be paying for this for years to come.

  7. C.L. says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Ed Emmett has an unnatural hard on for the Astrodome. First domed sports stadium in the US didn’t prevent the Oilers and Astros from vacating their association, nor has it enticed any folks with deep, deep, deep pockets to take on the structures revitalization or repurposing… I guess the way to get around that is get a couple million County dwellers with relatively shallow pockets to pony up instead. This entire town is keen on bulldozing history and erecting steel and glass – why is this venue, with horrific site lines and acoustics and in need of $100M+ in repairs an exception ?

  8. Manny Barrera says:

    Why did I vote no on spending money? Those dang Republicans will do anything to give their contractor friends easy money.