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Reliant Arena

Trump’s tiny Texas rally for Ted

Aww, how cute.

Not Ted Cruz

President Donald Trump will make good on his promise to help Texas Republican Ted Cruz, announcing plans to hold a large rally next Monday night in Houston.

The Trump campaign on Monday said the next stop on the president’s midterm campaign tour will be at the NRG Arena, which its website states can hold “less than 10,000” people near the larger NRG Stadium.

In August, Trump said he would do a “major rally” for Cruz in the “biggest stadium in Texas we can find.”

The NRG Arena is not the state’s largest stadium. That honor goes to Kyle Field at the Texas A&M University campus with its seating capacity of 102,733.

That’s the biggest stadium he could find? Really? Maybe that was the biggest stadium he felt like finding. Or the biggest he thought he might have a shot at filling up. Or the biggest stadium he thought Ted Cruz deserved. I could do this all day. I’ve seen some folks suggest on Facebook reserving tickets, then not attending so there will be lots of empty seats. I’ve no idea how well that might work, but I do see people going through with it (you have to go to Trump’s campaign webpage for, and I’d sooner eat paste than link to it, so you’re on your own if you want in), so we’ll see if it has any effect. But seriously, the “biggest stadium in Texas”? It wouldn’t even be the biggest stadium in HISD. Never believe a word Trump says.

A lot of people wanted a piece of the Dome

Unfortunately, most came away empty-handed.

This one is not for sale

Wearing a floppy orange hat and an Astros baseball shirt, Dene Hofheinz grabbed a front-row seat for Saturday’s auction of iconic items from the domed stadium her father built more than four decades ago.

She joined thousands of others who waited for hours in long lines to get a piece of history from the world-famous Astrodome. Popular items, including stadium seats and squares of Astroturf, sold out as organizers acknowledged being overwhelmed by the turnout.

Ted Nelkin, whose family owned a sports memorabilia store in Houston for decades and formerly operated a trading card store at the Astrodome, waited more than 11 hours in line and left with a receipt for two pairs of seats, which he was told he could pick up in December.

The manner in which the sale was conducted was “the worst,” Nelkin said.

“I’ve got nothing good to say about it,” he said. “They could have cared less that we were there. It was ‘If you want your seats, you will wait in line as long as it takes.’ We were kept in the dark and had no idea of what to expect.”

Nostalgic fans started lining up around 5 a.m., three hours before the sale was set to begin at the adjacent Reliant Center.

Nelkin said he was told that organizers ran out of Astroturf pieces at 11 a.m. and ran out of physical seats that had been removed from the Dome by 2 p.m., forcing buyers to receive receipts for seats to pick up next month.

Mark Miller, Reliant Park’s general manager, said sale organizers expected about 1,500 people to show up but that the actual crowd was six to eight times that size.

“I apologize to everyone for the wait,” he said. “The sentiment for this building is just overwhelming, but the crowd was very cordial and very understanding, and we had no real issues.”

[…]

“We were going to feel good if we had sold 500 pairs of seats,” Miller said. Instead, organizers sold 900 pairs and accepted orders for another 1,500 pairs.

Miller said Reliant Park will conduct an online auction starting at noon Nov. 15 for customers who were unable to get to the Saturday morning sale. Plenty of seats remain, he said, but he is unsure how much Astroturf, if any, remains available.

The Reliant Park folks guessed at the level of demand for Astrodome items by basing it on the volume at other stadium auctions. Never let it be said Houston isn’t a sports town, I guess. As far as the subsequent online auction goes, I’d love to tell you more, but there’s nothing in the story about it, there’s nothing on the Reliant Park events calendar or on their Facebook page. So who knows when or at what URL it will be. On the plus side, that ought to keep demand under control. John Coby, who attended the sale and came await more disappointed than anything else, has more.

Anyone remember the Comets?

Not much to remember them by.

I remember them

Five years ago Sunday, the Comets played their final game.

There were no balloons, no confetti, no celebration. There weren’t even fans.

The final game the WNBA team played was at Strahan Coliseum in San Marcos, where it was moved after Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area. It was the latest setback in a string of them for the Comets that season.

Six weeks before that game, the team was put up for sale and its operations were taken over by the WNBA.

Despite their troubles, no one in the organization thought the Comets were folding. So when they played their final game in the Texas State University gym, worried about their friends in hurricane-ravaged Houston, they never thought it would be their last.

But three months later, the league suspended team operations and the franchise that won the first four WNBA titles was no more.

“We knew there was trouble,” former guard Tamecka Dixon said. “But it never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be playing in Houston the next year. We understood that there would be new owners and that the league would run the team for a while, but I never thought it was over.”

[…]

The Comets won the league’s first four championships from 1997-2000. No other team has won more than two. The team’s average attendance was a WNBA-high 11,442 from 1997-2002, then fell to 9,592.

[…]

“No one saw it coming,” former Rockets guard John Lucas said. “No one. And it’s too bad, because they were a big part of Houston basketball. When the Rockets weren’t playing, you had the Comets. It was an important part of the sports cycle for the city of Houston.”

So when the Comets traveled from Chicago to San Marcos for their last game of the regular season Sept. 15, 2008, no one on the team knew they would be on the floor for the last time.

“It’s sad to think that there was no celebration for the Comets, nothing,” Dixon said. “We weren’t even in Houston. The fans didn’t get a chance to have a real goodbye, a real celebration. And Houston had such loyal fans. That is a franchise that deserved a real sendoff.”

The Comets did indeed have a loyal fanbase, with fans as rabid and dedicated as any you’d see at a Texans game. But it was a dwindling fanbase, and if we’re honest with ourselves we will say that it hadn’t been treated very well towards the end. Speaking as a many-year Comets season ticket holder, the move from the Toyota Center to Reliant Arena for that last season would have killed hardier franchises than that. Reliant Arena, to put it delicately, was a dump. You could probably find a dozen high school gyms, and likely a few junior high gyms, that offered a better fan experience for watching a basketball game. Dark, dingy, lousy sight lines, worse acoustics, few amenities – it was a depressing way to watch a game. Had the team continued to exist, I doubt we’d have renewed our tickets for another year – the kids were too little to enjoy the games, and unlike the Toyota Center where you could at least walk around the outer corridors with them in some comfort and with some awareness of what was going on in the game, there was nothing at Reliant for the fan with small children. For a franchise that won four straight championships, something very few teams in any league can claim to have done, they deserved better. Speaking for their once rowdy fans, so did we.

Interview with Willie Loston

Willie Loston is the Executive Director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, which is the not-for-profit company that operates and maintains the public facilities at Reliant Park, including Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome. It was the HCSCC that called for and evaluated the private proposals for the Astrodome, and the HCSCC that ultimately presented the plan for a publicly-funded renovation of the Dome into a multi-purpose event facility. Of course, the process of coming up with a sustainable plan for the Dome goes back well before this year, but after a few false starts it has traction now. As you know, not everyone is on board with HCSCC’s idea, which must be approved by Commissioners Court and then ratified by popular vote, and there are still a lot of questions about why it was the HCSCC plan that was put forward, why has this taken so long, and so on. Mr. Loston reached out to me after one of my (many) posts about the Dome, and agreed to let me throw a few of these questions at him for my blog. Here’s what we talked about:

Willie Loston interview

Just as a point of clarification, the interview was conducted yesterday, so when Loston refers to the Commissioners Court meeting tomorrow, he means today, Tuesday. I believe this is the link Loston refers to when he mentions searching for the master plan. We’ll see what Commissioners Court does today; I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities to write about this before all is said and done.

UPDATE: Commissioners Court has unanimously approved the HCSCC proposal, and sent it to the county budget office, county attorney and infrastructure department for further review.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he expects to hear back on the proposal in about a month.

The budget office will look at ways to finance the project, including revenue generators to offset the price tag of any bond referendum sent to voters. The project could end up on the ballot in the form of a bond referendum as early as November.

Commissioners had no comment on the proposal before voting to send it to staff.

Emmett, however, explained that they were referring it to the budget office “to analyze what exactly the financial impact is because if there is a bond, there will be a tax and everybody needs to understand that, but the level of that tax right now is still undetermined.”

The county attorney, he said, will determine what deadlines have to be met to get the item on the ballot.

So far so good. Now that the T-word has been invoked, we’ll see who pops up to oppose this.

Big week for the Dome

This week things start to get real for the Astrodome.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Monday is an important deadline for those who are determined to save the historic Astrodome, as private firms turn in renovation proposals to the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp.

But the agency that oversees Harris County-owned Reliant Park is also crafting its own plan, possibly a new one, which Executive Director Willie Loston said will be revealed to the board of directors at a meeting on June 19.

“Even if we get a privately funded proposal that meets all the requirements, we’re still going to do a public recommendation as well,” Loston said.

He would not describe the public plan, or say whether it is different from a half-billion dollar proposal the agency recommended to Harris County Commissioners Court last summer. That plan would have renovated the Astrodome and replaced Reliant Arena.

Whatever plan the agency comes up with will go to county commissioners – along with private proposals – on June 25.

County officials have said a “public option,” so called because it would be paid for using tax dollars, could end up on the ballot this November.

In other words, the most recent What To Do With The Dome report, which was put together last year at this time and then put aside by Commissioners Court, is being revived by the HCSCC as a plan for Commissioners Court to consider. The three options presented were to renovate the Dome as a more modern sports arena for $270 million; do the same but also tear down Reliant Arena and replace it with a less-grody 10,000 seat arena for smaller events, for $385 million; and tear the Dome down, for $64 million. Unless prices have gone up, calling this a “half-billion dollar proposal” is therefore a bit of an overbid. Well, I suppose the HCSCC could have spiced it up some since last year, and thus driven up the price tag. We’ll know soon enough.

The rest of the story is about some of the private proposals that are in circulation – Astrodome Tomorrow, Ryan Slattery’s park proposal, and one I hadn’t heard of before to turn the Dome into a business incubator. All private proposals need to have financing lined up in order to be considered by Commissioners Court. That brings up a point that I don’t think has been sufficiently clarified. Any vote in November would be about a public proposal – that is, a proposal to spend public money, presumably via a bond issue – and it has to be a straight yes-or-no vote, so if the public/bond proposal fails, the Dome is doomed to demolition. What that says to me is that private proposals will be considered first, and if one or more of them are considered acceptable to Commissioners Court, then they will choose among those proposals, and that’s what will go forward. The only circumstance under which there will be a vote is if there are no acceptable – i.e., adequately financed – private proposals. If you’re rooting for the Dome to be preserved, you want a private proposal to go forward so that you don’t have to sweat out the result of an election.

Is this the end of hockey in Houston again?

Looks like it.

As the Houston Chronicle first reported in January, it appears the Houston Aeros’ 19-year run in Houston is all but over.

An announcement could be coming in the next couple of weeks, basically after the Aeros’ season, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Tuesday.

The Aeros, affliated with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, are expected to move to Des Moines, Iowa.

The reason for the move was that the team has been unable to extend its lease at Toyota Center.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority has looked into alternative venues – primarily Reliant Arena – for the minor league hockey franchise but has found none suitable.

I confess, I don’t follow the Aeros very closely – it’s been at least ten years since I’ve been to a game. I didn’t even realize they were now affiliated with an NHL team. What I do know is that if they can’t renew their lease at the Toyota Center, they may as well move. Tiffany and I were for awhile season ticket holders for the Houston Comets, and they played one year at Reliant Arena, their last year before folding. It was a truly awful venue – dingy, lots of poor sight lines, lousy or non-existent amenities, and no option to park for free on the street. Maybe it’s better now, and maybe the replacement facility that has been talked about as part of an Astrodome plan would be better – it could hardly be worse – but that would be of little help to the Aeros. So yeah, Toyota Center or bust. Good luck with that. Hair Balls, which also wrote about this last week, has more.

More reactions to the new Astrodome report

Texans owner Bob McNair says “Sure, that’s nice and all, but don’t you forget about me.”

This would be cheaper to renovate

“Our first concern is Reliant Stadium,” McNair said Thursday. “We want to make sure we’ve got adequate funds there for repairs, replacement and improvements, and right now we don’t have ade-quate funds. I’d like to see that taken care of first.”

McNair claimed only $2.5 million is going into the stadium’s upkeep fund when $8 million is needed, explaining that the economic downturn since 2008 has significantly cut into tax revenues that would have been earmarked for stadium repairs, replacement parts and upgrades.

“(Commissioners) court has been very supportive,” said McNair, who watched the Texans’ OTA practice with Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, on whose turf the Reliant complex sits. “It’s just now being brought to their attention. They’re contractually obligated to (maintain the stadium), but with the recession and the difference in tax receipts that were anticipated, there hasn’t been as much money available. (The Texans) and the rodeo have helped, and we’ll continue to do that. But it’s something that needs to be addressed long term.

“Compared to the other issues that we’re looking at, it’s a drop in the bucket. I think it needs to be addressed first.”

He is of course comparing costs with that of the proposed Astrodome/Reliant Arena renovation, which would almost certainly require a tax increase to pay for.

Bill Jackson, the county’s chief budget officer, said such a large bond issue likely would require a tax hike or deep budget cuts, particularly given other projects for which the county will need to sell bonds, such as a forensic sciences facility.

Financing $500 million over 30 years at 5 percent interest would require $28 million annually, Jackson said. For comparison, $28 million covers the annual costs for all but seven of the county’s dozens of departments, not counting the commissioners.

“It would be very difficult with everything we that have on our plate right now” to issue $500 million in bonds without a tax hike, Jackson said. “It’s a matter of setting priorities and figuring that out.”

A one-cent tax increase would generate about $26 million a year, Jackson said. That increase would raise the taxes on a $200,000 home by $16 annually, assuming the owner had a homestead exemption.

Yes, let’s talk priorities. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of a tax increase. I’ve argued for some time now that Harris County should have considered at least rolling back the property tax cut they made a few years back to avoid or at least reduce the need for layoffs during the downturn. This project, in whatever form, would not be where I would want to see extra revenues go. It’s not even close. If it came up for a vote, I would vote against it. I agree with Judge Emmett here:

“The way it was trotted out, we’re going to re-purpose the Dome and we’re going to replace the arena with a new building,” Emmett said. “If we’re doing that, why don’t we use the Dome for the purposes the arena was being used for? Because that would obviously cost less.”

Yes. What exactly would a renovated Dome and/or Reliant Arena actually be used for? More to the point, what use could one or the other have that isn’t currently being addressed by some other facility? And even if there is some identifiable unfulfilled need, why would we need both of them for it? I touched on that yesterday, and John Royal asks as well.

Essentially they want to raise the floor and turn the Dome into a small venue for football, soccer, hockey, basketball, and concerts. But that’s also what they want to do with Reliant Arena. And what the consultants want to do with the Dome is what is supposed to be done with that new taxpayer-funded paradise the Dynamo is playing in. You know, that new small stadium meant for hosting soccer, football, and concerts. And one of the purposes for renovating Hofheinz Pavilion, besides giving the Cougars a modern basketball facility, is using it, once again, for concerts. And I’m sure Les Alexander would love Harris County trying to steal business from his Harris County-funded arena.

Royal concludes, with a heavy heart, that it would be better to demolish the Dome and put it out of its misery. The more this all drags out, the most I think that’s where we’re headed whether we want to admit it now or not. That said, I must admit I’ve not seen many good ideas for what to do with the empty space post-demolition. Turning it into some sort of park, as Royal and others suggest, sounds nice but who would actually use it? What attractions would be there to draw people in, and who would pay to build and maintain them? The upside is that this is by far the cheaper option, even if the cost of demolition is still on the way high end compared to other stadia.

Meet the new “What To Do With The Astrodome” report

Not that much different than the old “What To Do With The Astrodome” report.

Not actual size

The Astrodome, a now-empty showplace that has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, should be turned into a multipurpose facility that could spark fresh interest in the city of Houston, a group of consultants recommended Wednesday.

The $270 million option was one of four considered by consultants led by Dallas-based CSL. The other options included leaving the dome alone, demolishing it and building an outdoor plaza, or building a massive and expensive “renaissance” complex anchored by a luxury hotel.

In a presentation to Harris County’s sports and convention agency, the consultants said the multipurpose option could turn Houston into a popular destination for special events and national trade shows. The plan would preserve the iconic structure’s outer shell.

Bill Rhoda, CSL’s president, said the multipurpose facility proposal “recognizes the magnitude of potential opportunities offered by this one-of-a-kind structure.”

The reconfigured dome would have more than 300,000 square feet available for trade shows, exhibitions and various sporting events, including basketball and football games.

Rhoda said the multipurpose facility could be finished by 2016, when nearby Reliant Stadium hosts the Final Four in men’s basketball, and help make Houston more attractive for any bid to host the 2017 Super Bowl at the stadium. Rhoda also said the multipurpose facility leaves open the possibility of revisiting the renaissance option in the future.

“It provides additional flexibility for being able to attract a variety of events,” Rhoda said. “It adds the ability to move toward the Super Bowls and the Final Fours of the world, and get those events to Houston.”

The recommendation now goes to the Harris County commissioners, who can review the details at their next capital projects meeting on June 26. There is no known timeline for a decision, and the dome’s future could in theory be put before voters someday.

This is the completion of the study that was commissioned last year. You can compare it to the three options proposal from the last study. I confess, I’m a little confused by this.

While the Astrodome’s outer shell isn’t going anywhere, the inside floor would be raised to street level to create a 300,000 square foot performance area.

That means capacity will be severely decreased — 5,500 for a hockey game, 5,000 for high-school basketball tournaments and 15,500 for football, which, for the circa 1996 Oilers, would have been a badass turnout.

If the $270.3 million project gets the thumbs-up by Harris County Commissioners Court, the HCSCC board hopes to get the proposed plan on the ballot for a public vote. If passed, officials may try to lure the 2016 Final Four and the 2017 Super Bowl to the improved digs.

I’m not exactly sure how having a small-capacity sports-capable facility next door to Reliant makes it more attractive for those events. Be that as it may, there are some sporting events that would be suitable for the MiniDome.

“We would like to aggressively pursue bringing back to Houston the state high school football championships,” [HCSCC Chair Edgardo] Colon said. “This would be ideal for an event like that. (Reliant Stadium) is probably too big.”

Actually, the division title games last year at Cowboys Stadium topped out at 43,369 for the Aledo-Manvel game, so the slimmed-down Dome likely could not host the 3A, 4A or 5A division games. About 15,500 seats, however, could be sufficient to host the 2A, A or six-man games, which were attended by 5,000 to 10,000 at Cowboys Stadium last year.

There is more to this plan than just the Dome.

Colon said the consultants believe replacing Reliant Arena is a higher priority, and would allow the county to better compete for events, shows and conventions it cannot host now.

The proposed $385 million fix would demolish the arena and replace it with a performance space with up to 10,000 seats, along with 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, more ballrooms and meeting space and a 3,000-space parking garage.

The consultants’ master plan also includes room for a hotel to be financed by private investors and connected to the renovated Dome by a skybridge.

It’s too soon for me to wrap my mind around this. I mean, what could a 5,000 to 15,000 seat Astrodome do as a sports and concert venue that, say, the new Dynamo Stadium couldn’t? It’s not clear to me where this thing fits in to the scene. Steve Radack is already pooh-poohing the report, so it may just wind up in a filing cabinet next to the last one, and two years later we’ll commission another study to see if anything has changed.

One more thing:

According to the consultants, demolishing the dome would cost $64 million.

That’s slightly less than what we have heard before, but still more expensive than other recently demolished stadia. And it may yet be what finally happens. Campos has more.

Time for another “What to do with the Astrodome?” study

It’s been two years since we had one of these.

The Astrodome’s next incarnation — planetarium? hotel? heap of dynamited rubble? – will be the subject of yet another study ordered up by Harris County Commissioners Court this week.

What to do with the dusty 46-year-old landmark has nagged at county officials even before the Astros left for what is now Minute Maid Park in 1999. How to pay for any proposal has not been far from their minds, either. Even tearing it down would cost tens of millions of dollars.

“We have to make a decision” on the Dome, County Judge Ed Emmett said. “I wanted us to make our decision this year. They’re going to look at every option there is and come back with the recommendation. It’s about time we do that.”

The county will contribute $50,000 toward a $500,000 study, bringing to $100,000 the total the county has spent in the past two years studying what to do with the aging Houston icon.

The remaining $450,000 for the latest study will be funded by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Houston Texans, Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and Aramark Corp.

The study, slated for completion in December, also will plot the future of the entire Reliant Park complex, home to the long-vacant Dome, the Texans’ Reliant Stadium, Reliant Center and aging Reliant Arena.

It was almost exactly two years ago when the previous study was approved. That led to the infamous three options proposal that nobody liked. County Judge Ed Emmett said at the beginning of the year that something needs to happen, and he reiterated his call at the State of the County address. According to the story, he wants to have a bond referendum on next year’s ballot. We’ll see if this study works out any better than that last one.