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National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Astrodome isn’t officially a historic landmark just yet

The decision has been delayed until there can be a meeting to discuss it in Houston.

Not historic but still standing

Honoring a request by Harris County officials to table the vote and meet much closer to Houston, the Texas Historical Commission voted Wednesday at a meeting in far West Texas to postpone designating the iconic Astrodome a so-called “state antiquities landmark.”

The designation would not outright save the world’s first domed stadium from demolition, but would make the possibility of it more difficult. That’s because the county would have to get permission from the state before tearing it down or making any other substantial changes to the long-vacant stadium’s exterior.

After nearly 45 minutes of public testimony, and a motion made to approve the designation application, Chairman Matthew Kreisle said he was concerned that designation could make it more difficult for the county to strike a deal with a developer to renovate the structure.

But Kreisle, an architect, said he wanted to see local officials make a concerted effort to do so, and also try to make use of a new historic state tax credit as leverage.

Kreisle described the 25 percent tax credit, approved last year by the Legislature, as a “deal changer,” and said it poses “an opportunity to possibly look at this deal in a new light.”

“I am concerned, in my mind, if we get the designation put on it today that we may possibly make that deal harder to happen at this time,” he said before making a motion to table the item, which was seconded and approved by the commission.

[…]

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has opposed designation for the same reasons the chairman moved to table it, said the move will create more time for him to devise yet another redevelopment plan.

“It does continue the protection but it doesn’t lock in a decision at this point,” he said.

Kreisle said he planned to reach out to Emmett to arrange some kind of meeting in Houston “where we can hear from the judge” and others.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Dome is also on the National Register of Historic Places, which is a nice honor but not much more from a practical perspective. I’m basically ambivalent about historic designation – it feels more like a gesture than anything else to me – but I will say that it would be greatly ironic if such a designation made it less likely that the Dome could be repurposed by a private investor, as that would surely increase its odds of being demolished. Finding a private investor to Do Something with the Dome is clearly Judge Emmett’s preferred outcome, so one would think he and the Commission will have some incentive to work out the kinks on this. The Commission’s website is here and their calendar of events is here, and I figure we’ll hear about the planned Houston meeting soon enough. CultureMap has more.

Astrodome preservationists make their case for historic landmark status

Ted Powell and Cynthia Neely, the driving forces behind the push to designate the Astrodome as a national and state landmark, write an op-ed outlining their reasoning.

Not historic but still standing

As the Texans and the Rodeo view a third-party investor as not boosting, but rather siphoning off their revenue streams, we believe they have and will continue to dismiss any third party idea submissions no matter how well financed.

The hastily assembled $217 million bond ballot initiative, which was narrowly defeated during the low turnout election in November, was a face-saving move following the county’s swift dismissal of more than 22 third-party submissions.

It is our belief that public funding (i.e., bond issue), is the only path forward that the Texans and the Rodeo will accept as it is the only way that guarantees that they will not have to share park decision-making and revenue with a third party in the future.

We believe the national and state landmark designations can break the stalemate. Their legal statute permit requirements bring the Texas Historical Commission to the table, who, if invited, will assist with developing a comprehensive plan that optimizes the economic benefit and historical preservation aspects in repurposing the Astrodome. Even if the commission is not invited to the planning table, the agency has veto power over any ill-conceived Astrodome plan.

The landmark designations also offer tax saving opportunities to third-party investors, increasing the pool of potential investors and re-purposing visions.

It is true that a state landmark-designated building can be delisted and a demolition permit can be granted, but this requires the owner to show due diligence as to why no economically viable plan exists.

It is doubtful that the commission would grant a demolition permit based on “existing contractual obligations.”

See here, here, and here for the background. It’s tough to put much detail into a 700-word op-ed aimed at a general audience, but I don’t feel like I learned anything new from this. It’s interesting that they have concluded that public financing is the only non-demolition path forward, since previous statements made by the likes of Commissioner El Franco Lee and County Judge Ed Emmett suggest they think that a private investor is the ticket. I wonder how much Powell and Neely’s perspective was shaped by that stakeholders meeting a few weeks ago. I agree that landmark designation will make it more difficult, politically as well as procedurally, to demolish the Dome. That may force the recognition that an imperfect plan is better than no plan, which may help move something forward, and it has value on its own if you’re passionate about saving the Dome, as Poweel and Neely clearly are. Beyond that, I’m still not sure what this will do.

They don’t make historic landmarks like they used to

If it can still be demolished, it’s fair to ask what was the point.

Not historic but still standing

The impending designation of the Astrodome as a so-called “state antiquities landmark” has offered new hope to those who want to save the iconic stadium, but the special title would not outright protect the former Eighth Wonder of the World from the wrecking ball, even though it would make it far more difficult.

At an “Astrodome Stakeholder’s Meeting” on Wednesday convened by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, preservation groups pointed out that the county still could seek a demolition permit from the Texas Historical Commission, even if the 13-member body votes this summer to deem the dome an antiquities landmark. Emmett noted that the county, under state law, could also make the case that redevelopment is too much of a burden on taxpayers in asking the commission for permission to tear down the now-empty structure.

[…]

“If we can’t find a group or a solution to use that building, we’re going to get to demolition eventually,” said Beth Wiedower, a senior field officer for the National Trust. “Yes, this is great that it’s been recognized as historic but our efforts are going to be focused on reusing the building because that’s ultimately what’s going to save it.”

Emmett said he organized the Wednesday meeting because he wanted everyone to be “on the same page” about where things stand with the dome, particularly the antiquities designation he says will impose added difficulties as the county tries to figure out what to do next.

The historical commission is slated to consider the designation at its meeting July 30-31.

[…]

Emmett said Wednesday the goal – as it was before the failed bond proposal – is to find a private entity to redevelop the dome at its own expense, something the county has been seeking for years now to no avail. He also said demolition still is not on the table, although he mentioned a provision in state law that would allow the county to make the case to the commission that demolition is necessary because redevelopment is too costly, if no plan pans out.

“Part of this antiquities landmark process later on could be going to the historical commission and saying ‘Look we’ve tried we’ve tried, we’ve tried. We’ve not come up with an answer and this is too great a burden on the taxpayers of Harris County and that is a provision in the law that you can take into consideration,” he said.

Emmett said he expects the commission will approve the designation, preventing demolition at least for the “short run.”

“If they grant the landmark status then I think that will force some people to come to the table and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do with the dome’ because I think it would be unlikely then, in the short run, that the historical commission would approve tearing it down,” he said.

See here, here, and here for the background. Not sure we’re any closer than before to agreeing on What To Do About The Dome. Well, at least now we agree that it can still be torn down. Whether or not that’s what we want to do is a whole ‘nother question. So I guess we’ll just keep talking.