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Texas Historical Commission

Another designation for the Astrodome

It’s quite the historic place.

All this and history too

The famed Astrodome will be designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark — the highest honor the state can bestow on a historic structure.

The marker will finally and officially tell the story of the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and, hopefully, create a snapshot destination.

“The dome has never had an actual historical marker,” said Mike Vance, a member of the Harris County Historical Commission which is the local arm of the Texas Historical Commission.

The Texas commission approved the stadium in January among 172 new historical markers statewide for 2018.

[…]

The Astrodome received its strongest protection in a 2017 state antiquities landmark designation, which requires clearance from the Texas Historical Commission for any alterations. Becoming a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark adds another measure of protection.

“It’s a higher standard you have to reach to qualify for that kind of marker,” said Vance. “That means that it’s a building and it has to be intact in the judgment of the Texas Historical Commission — and the dome, thankfully, is.”

In addition, the sign’s unveiling will be “something tangible and visible,” unlike the antiquities designation, Vance said.

So let’s get a couple of things straight at this point.

1. There’s no way the Astrodome gets demolished. You can argue that it was wrong to pursue these historic designations, and you can argue (incorrectly) that the Dome should have been demolished after the 2012 bond referendum was voted down, but those ships have sailed. The Astrodome is basically in the same class as the Alamo now. It’s not getting demolished.

2. Given #1, that means the choices before us are Do Something, and Keep Doing Nothing. It should be clear to all that nobody wants to Keep Doing Nothing. Ed Emmett certainly doesn’t want to do nothing, and the people who are most vocally opposed to the plan that Emmett has put forward are the ones who are most vocally upset about the state of the Dome now after years of nothing being done. Nobody wants to do nothing.

3. So, one way or another, we are going to do something about the Dome, and that means that one way or another we are going to spend some money on doing something about the Dome. The something that is on the table and currently in progress is the Emmett plan. One argument being made by those who don’t like the Emmett plan is that we should have a public vote to approve spending money on the Dome before we do so. I oppose this for two reasons. One is that we don’t as a matter of course have public votes to approve the spending of money by government entities. We vote to approve the borrowing of money, but not the spending of money. I have zero interest in setting that precedent, and I can’t think of a single reason why anyone of a progressive bent would want to set that precedent, either. And two, public votes like this have become little more than preludes to litigation over the result of those votes, often on ridiculous pretexts and often taking years to resolve. You want to ensure that nothing continues to get done on the Dome for another five or ten years, maybe more? Insist on a vote before authorizing any money to be spent on it. It’s more effective than any filibuster.

Astrodome gains antiquities status

Nice.

All this and antiquities landmark status too

The aging behemoth billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World has joined the revered ranks of the Alamo and State Capitol as an honored historical site.

Just days before a crowd of more than 70,000 files past for Super Bowl LI in neighboring NRG Stadium, the long-vacant Astrodome has won the coveted designation as a state antiquities landmark.

The distinction – which has been awarded to the Alamo, the Capitol and the Cotton Bowl, among others – brings special protection against demolition for the nation’s first fully enclosed, domed sports stadium.

But it won’t hinder the $105 million plan to renovate the once-proud facility, which has been officially closed to the public since 2009, officials said.

“It is an iconic structure,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has long championed the venue. “The Astrodome literally changed the world of sports and entertainment and it helped put Houston and Harris County on the global scene.”

The Texas Historical Commission voted unanimously Friday to grant antiquities status, which had been sought for nearly three years by two Houston-area residents who hoped to preserve the facility.

“I was jumping up and down and running around my house telling my husband and everybody when I saw it on Twitter,” said Cynthia Neely, a writer and film producer who along with former Exxon engineer Ted Powell of La Porte filed the voluminous application, paid the fee and lobbied around the state to save the dome.

“It was a total surprise,” she said. “We’re just your average citizens.”

[…]

The designation will mean the dome cannot be “removed, altered, damaged, salvaged or excavated” without first obtaining permission from the commission, officials have said.

This process got started back in 2014, though it’s been in limbo since then as well. I’m not sure what the practical effect of this designation is since there are no current discussions about demolishing the Dome, but if that does ever come up again, it will be a lot harder to do. In the meantime, the parking lot plan moves forward, presumably with the blessing of the Historical Commission, and the Dome will play a minor part during the Super Bowl. So at least there’s one nice thing happening in the world. Swamplot and Houstonia have more.

Commissioners Court approves Astrodome parking plan

Here we go.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

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.

The Astrodome parking proposal is about to get real

Here it comes.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

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.

Astrodome parking plan coming

Better get ready.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County officials on Friday unveiled a $105 million plan to raise the floor of the Astrodome and build two new levels of parking beneath it, the strongest signal yet that the county plans to maintain and find another use for the one-time architectural marvel.

The proposal, which the county has been studying for months, would represent a critical step toward repurposing the stadium, which has sat vacant for decades as the community has debated its fate.

“This ensures that it’s protected for future years,” said Joe Stinebaker, a spokesman for County Judge Ed Emmett, who strongly backs transforming the 51-year-old structure, once dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

The plan would allow some 240,000 square feet of ground-level space to be used for events or for an indoor park. County officials envision attracting retail, commercial or hospitality uses to the more than 550,000 square feet of space that surrounds the core.

County government offices could even be housed in the retrofitted stadium, said County Engineer John Blount.

“What we do next, it becomes an open tablet,” Stinebaker said.

Commissioners will be publicly presented with the proposal for the first time Tuesday and could vote on authorizing design and construction by as early as September, said county budget officer Bill Jackson.

[…]

Stinebaker said the commission is currently reviewing the parking proposal, which would raise the floor by two levels and convert those levels into parking with 700 spaces each. Any other changes would likely have to go before the historical commission.

See here and here for the background. We’ll know more on Tuesday, but the main piece that’s missing from all this is how it will be paid for. I feel confident saying there will be no bond referendum, for what I assume are obvious reasons, but beyond that we’ll just have to wait. The late El Franco Lee liked this plan, so one presumes it will receive support from current Commissioner Locke. There’s nothing about this that would prevent any of the multiple proposals for repurposing the Dome from happening along with this. Perhaps having this in place would make the whole thing more attractive to the long-hoped-for private investor. Who knows? I look forward to seeing what gets presented tomorrow.

The Historical Commission, the expert panel, and the Dome

And Judge Ed Emmett, the connection between them all.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

As a group of national experts convenes to figure out what is best to do with the Astrodome, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday briefed the chairman and staff of the Texas Historical Commission about his proposal to turn the vacant stadium into an indoor park and about the repair he says is needed no matter what happens to the 1965 structure.

Emmett met with the Urban Land Institute earlier this month, the week after unveiling his proposal to turn the county-owned Dome into the “world’s largest indoor park” and recreation area. Last week, he told reporters he hopes the county will hire the respected nonprofit to organize a panel of experts to conduct a holistic analysis of the iconic stadium and figure out how it might be reused.

On Tuesday, Emmett said the institute’s panel will convene in December. In the meantime, the panel has asked the county to prepare a series of questions it would like the panel to answer.

Emmett says he will not attempt to look for investors until the panel comes back with recommendations.

[…]

Emmett said he plans to ask the commission for permission to sell seats and continue asbestos abatement and other potential work, including power washing. He said he was told those things should not be a problem since they do not alter the appearance of the stadium.

“We’ll run everything by them,” he said. “I wanted to establish a clear line of communication so that when there are things that need to be done we don’t get stuck for months, you know, going back and forth and I think we’ve accomplished that.”

The Urban Land Institute panel should be a good way to answer my first question about Judge Emmett’s indoor park idea for the Dome. It’s great to say there are many possibilities for What To Do With The Dome, but until we can identify one compelling option we’re just flailing about. As for the Historical Commission, opening a channel of communication is a good idea. Let them know what’s going on so they can offer their input without forcing delays. I look forward to hearing what the Urban Land Institute panel comes up with.

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.

Emmett doesn’t like Astrodome Park

And he’s not afraid to say so.

Hoping to jump-start another discussion about redeveloping the Astrodome, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Thursday called the Houston Texans and the Rodeo’s proposal to demolish the iconic stadium and replace it with a park-like green space “a silly plan” and pleaded with members of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston to give repurposing a second chance.

“The Astrodome is the only building in the world that’s 350,000 square feet of column-free space,” he told a luncheon crowd at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. “There are a lot of creative people in the world who would love to figure out ways to use the space if we just keep it and make it an option for them.”

The county’s top elected official was not advocating for a specific redevelopment proposal and told association members there is not one currently under consideration by the Harris County Commissioners Court, which will have the final say on any plan to renovate or demolish the structure. Rather, he said that tearing it down would be a waste of a valuable taxpayer-funded asset and that demolition would come back to haunt him in retirement.

The 49-year-old structure “is going to become a critical piece of who we are as a community. It’s not about nostalgia,” he continued. “It’s an asset that belongs to the taxpayers of Harris County and it would be a shame, because I know that I would wake up in retirement at my log cabin 10 or 12 years later and somebody would come forth and say ‘If we just had the Astrodome.’ So, I just wanted to bring that out. I’m starting that discussion again.”

In the last week, Emmett has expressed opposition to a $66 million proposal by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the NFL’s Texans to demolish the stadium and turn it into a grassy, outdoor space like downtown’s Discovery Green where festivals, tailgating and concerts could take place. He did so again on Thursday.

“It’s a silly plan,” he said after his remarks. “I told them: If you’re going to tear it down, just tear it down. I mean, is anybody going to care this is where Harmon Killebrew hit a home run?”

Well, I think some nod to the history of the place if it gets torn down is the least we can do, but that’s a valid point. Judge Emmett was the only distinctly negative voice on Commissioners Court when the idea first surfaced, so this isn’t a big surprise. I’m happy to restart this conversation as well, but the problem is that after all these years there still isn’t an agreed-upon idea for What To Do With The Dome nor a way to pay for it. You’d think that if it was ever the time for a private investor to come forward with a plan, it would be now while we’re experiencing a huge real estate and construction boom. Alternately, the county could float another bond proposal; Emmett acknowledged in an earlier version of this story that they did a lousy job selling the last one, so maybe the next time, if there is one, they’d do better at it.

I don’t know if this is going to go anywhere. The rest of Commissioners Court appears to be receptive to the Astrodome Park idea, though perhaps their enthusiasm will wane a bit if the Rodeo and the Texans get weaselly about how much they’d be willing to pony up for it. Emmett sort of called them out on that, saying he’d oppose the idea even if they picked up the entire tab, which I’m sure they never had in mind. Things are on hold while the Texas Historical Commission is deciding whether or not to grant the Dome historical status. Like I said, I don’t know where we go from here, but one way or another the matter is still open for discussion. Hair Balls, Texas Leftist, and PDiddie, who does like the Astrodome Park idea, have more.

The bricks of Freedmen’s Town

Surely we can do something about this.

Most in the Fourth Ward community know the lore – that freed slaves and descendants first laid the bricks on the streets 100 years ago.

Now most agree the roads need repairs, but residents and preservationists worry a recently approved city plan to remove the bricks to fix piping underneath will ruin the original streets, a key element of Freedmen’s Town designation as a National Historic District. Some activists also say the process to approve the project violated federal laws intended to preserve national historic districts.

“I’m appalled that the mayor wants to disturb those bricks like that,” resident Terrance Williams said.

More than 100 years ago, Fourth Ward residents paid $1 per brick to have the streets paved in front of their houses, said Catherine Roberts, co-founder of the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum in Freedmen’s Town, and a major force for the area’s conservation. Not only are the bricks themselves significant, but the patterns they form tell a story. The designs at some intersections can be traced back to African crossroads – which pointed the way to safehouses for the black community – or religious traditions of the Yoruba people of West Africa.

“This is an in-the-ground cultural resource,” Roberts said. “You don’t take them out.”

Their inability to stop construction has made the community feel powerless – a community once considered the heartbeat of black Houston. Doctors, lawyers, dentists and ministers populated the area until the 1920s, when the Third and Fifth wards became more popular.

[…]

After decades of discussion and planning to install new utilities in the neighborhood, City Council approved a $5 million plan this month to repipe portions of Andrews and Wilson streets. Work is scheduled to start by early August, said Mike Cordova, project manager for the city.

Water and sewer pipes will be replaced, and then the salvageable bricks – estimated to be just one-third of those there now – will be cleaned and put back, but likely not in their original designs.

Texas Department of Transportation architect Mario Sanchez said the bricks will be regrouped at intersections rather than in their original locations. “It was determined infeasible to re-install them in their original locations, specifically because there would be a lack of continuity based on the number of salvageable bricks,” Sanchez wrote in the email to the Houston Chronicle.

That’s heartbreaking news to residents and historians, who believed that years ago they had reached a solution on upgrading the Freedmen’s Town streets. They pleaded with the city to tunnel underneath the bricks instead of moving them, and in 2007 former Mayor Bill White reached an agreement with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to do just that.

In a letter sent to the Chronicle from Jackson Lee to White, the congresswoman discusses the agreed-upon plan: using a combination of trenching and tunneling to put the water and sewer lines beneath the sidewalks instead of under the bricks, leaving them undisturbed.

City officials now say the streets are too narrow for tunneling, and construction costs could quadruple.

“It just wasn’t a practical way to move forward,” said council member Ellen Cohen, whose district includes Freedmen’s Town.

It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? There’s a lot more in the story about the historic preservation process and whether it’s being followed correctly, and you should read the whole thing. What it comes down to is that these bricks and these streets are a unique and very important piece of culture and history in a neighborhood that has lost so much of that culture and history to the demands of modern times. We really need to find a way to improve these streets without losing or damaging what they’re all about.

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.

Let’s talk about the Dome

Time for a come to Judge Emmett meeting about everyone’s favorite historic yet threatened local landmark.

Not historic but still standing

Emmett said he wants to use the meeting next Wednesday to clear up any confusion surrounding last week’s unanimous vote by the state’s Antiquities Advisory Board to forward an application for landmark designation to the full commission, acknowledging that approval is “likely.” The vote will occur at the commission’s quarterly meeting on July 30 and 31 in Alpine, commission spokeswoman Debbi Head said.

Emmett said many people do not understand that the county-owned Dome has had protected status since February when the historical commission agreed to consider the application, submitted by two Houston residents.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are saying different things about what they think is happening and this is just to make everything clear as to what’s going on,” Emmett said. “There is no answer, there is no proposal out there right now, but it’s just to have the conversation because once the historical commission filing was made, then the county’s hands are tied to a degree already. Some people don’t understand that.”

Representatives from the Rodeo and the Texans – the primary tenants of NRG Park, where the Dome is located – are among those on the guest list. Others include Ted Powell and Cynthia Neely, who submitted the antiquities designation application earlier this year, and Dene Hofheinz, daughter of former Houston mayor and county judge Roy Hofheinz, who is credited with building the dome.

In a statement, Rodeo officials said they remain eager to find an “acceptable resolution to a closed and rotting building that sits at the center of their operations.”

[…]

Neely, part of a group that proposed turning the Dome into a movie studio, said Tuesday she is glad Emmett is holding the meeting, but that she still is wary the county ultimately may resort to demolition, which inspired her to seek the antiquities designation in the first place. She and Powell, a retired LaPorte chemical engineer who led the fight to save and restore the Hurricane Ike-damaged Sylvan Beach pavilion, successfully pushed for the Dome’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, making it eligible for placement on the state list.

“I’m going in with a positive attitude hoping that now something good will happen,” said Neely, owner of Black Gold Productions, a Houston film company.

See here and here for more on the Dome’s historic landmark designation, which at the very least would seem to take demolition off the table. Maybe. Anyway, let’s be honest, the problem has always been money. There’s no shortage of ideas of what to do with the Dome, ranging from compelling to wacko, but what they all have in common is no readily identifiable way to pay for them. I thought the 2013 bond referendum would have settled this, but I was wrong. I’m still not sure whether the reason for its defeat had more to do with people just not liking the New Dome proposal, people not wanting to pay for anything, people being distrustful and cynical about a process that has taken forever to go nowhere, or some other thing. What I do know is that if we’re ever presented with another plan that requires public funding and a vote, the powers that be need to do a much better job selling it. I also think the Rodeo and the Texans need to put some skin in the game and pledge to pay for at least a little bit of whatever gets proposed; part of the cynicism I mentioned before comes from the Rodeo and Texans are driving an agenda of demolition and that they’ve gotten all of the benefit of Reliant Stadium on our dime. A private investor would solve a lot of these problems – assuming they are sufficiently capitalized, of course – but in the absence of a sugar daddy, everyone else needs to put an oar in the water and start rowing in the same direction. Maybe then the public will go along with it.

A step forward for the historic Astrodome

From CultureMap:

Not historic but still standing

Efforts to make the Astrodome a State Antiquities Landmark took a key step forward Tuesday as the state Antiquities Advisory Board voted unanimously to forward the application to the Texas Historical Commission. Such a designation would prevent the Astrodome from being altered or demolished without approval from the commission.

The commission will make a final decision on the application in July — and that could be the impetus (finally) for a frank and serious discussion on what to do with the world’s first domed stadium.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett plans to hold a large “stakeholders’ meeting” next month, bringing RodeoHouston and Houston Texans officials, preservationists and a host of interested parties on both sides to discuss “where to go from here,” said spokesman Joe Stinebaker. Emmett also plans to hold public meetings around Houston in an attempt to build consensus toward a solution that can be presented to the historical commission this summer.

“There is no move to tear down the Dome,” Stinebaker said. “But historical designation could tie the county’s hands in making it more difficult and expensive to do anything.”

Backers of efforts to save the Astrodome believe it cleared a “major hurdle” Tuesday with the advisory commission’s vote. “There’s no going back now,” an elated Ted Powell said in a telephone interview from Fort Worth after the vote.

[…]

Once an application is filed, no changes can be made to a structure under consideration during the review process, Texas Historical Commission spokeswoman Debbi Head told CultureMap, so the Astrodome has technically been protected from major changes or demolition while the process for antiquities landmark designation winds its way toward a resolution.

But Powell believes the vote signals an important turning point for the Dome’s future. “It brings qualified folks to the table to make sure the historical integrity (of the building) is preserved,” he said.

See here for the background. Designating the Astrodome as a historic structure doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with it, nor does it solve the problem of how to pay for whatever needs to be done. It does keep the Astrodome standing, which perhaps adds a bit more incentive to find those solutions. That’s a good thing. I don’t know how this ends, but I won’t complain about giving the Astrodome a reason to exist.

The historic Astrodome

Not sure what effect this will have.

Not historic but still standing

The National Park Service has added the Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium, to the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for tax breaks to aid in its rehabilitation but offering no real protection from the wrecking ball.

Historical preservationists, who successfully pushed for the Dome’s inclusion on the National Register, pledged Friday to continue their battle to save the Houston icon by asking the state to declare it an antiquities landmark – a designation that could limit Harris County’s power to alter or demolish the 49-year-old structure without a permit from the Texas Historical Commission.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett responded through a spokesman that he would “oppose anything that would tie the hands of officials elected by Harris County taxpayers, who own the Dome.”

The National Register’s decision Thursday to add the Astrodome, which opened in 1965, makes it eligible for inclusion on the state list. The historical commission normally takes six months to rule on such nominations, but once the process starts, a site is protected until a decision is reached. In recent years, said Gregory Smith, the agency’s national register coordinator, commissioners annually have granted fewer than six landmark designations to buildings.

[…]

Nominating the Astrodome for the national register were Cynthia Neely, owner of Black Gold Productions, a Houston film company, and Ted Powell, a LaPorte retired chemical engineer who led the fight to save and restore the Hurricane Ike-damaged Sylvan Beach pavilion.

Through the efforts of Friends of Sylvan Beach Park & Pavilion, the 1950s-era building was saved from demolition and restored in a $4.9 million project funded largely by federal hurricane recovery funds.

Neely and Powell confirmed Friday that they plan to push for the protective antiquities landmark designation.

The issue as always is whether someone – Harris County or a private investor – is willing to put up the money to Do Something with the Dome. Being added to the Register makes the Dome eligible for various tax breaks, but I don’t know how much effect, if any, that may have on the financial calculations for this. I suppose designating the Dome as a nationally historic structure might add to the pressure to not demolish it, but that doesn’t move it forward otherwise. But hey, every little bit helps.

The Dome’s status is complicated

Is it a landmark or not? If so, what kind?

We still have the memories

Mayor Annise Parker this week called an effort by the city historical commission to designate the Harris County-owned Astrodome a city landmark “ill-advised,” and said she had no plans to put the item before City Council for approval.

The Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission on Thursday is expected to vote to seek landmark designation for the 48-year-old stadium, where the county currently is carrying out $8 million worth of work, including asbestos abatement and demolition of exterior pedestrian towers added in the late 1980s.

[…]

City Attorney David Feldman said that if the commission votes to start the designation process, “the Astrodome would be subject to the requirement to get a ‘certificate of appropriateness’ for almost any activity affecting the exterior of the structure, including demolition, unless the county establishes that the ordinance does not apply to them.”

The historic preservation ordinance specifically applies to property owned by “a political subdivision of the state of Texas; provided such entities are not otherwise exempted from this article by law.”

In a memo sent to City Council members on Monday, however, Parker suggested it would be inappropriate for the city to impose landmark status on a building owned by another governmental entity.

“While a resolution supporting preservation of the Astrodome might have my support, the Astrodome is a Harris County facility, and imposing a city historic designation on it without approval of the property owner would be unprecedented,” Parker wrote.

The historic landmark idea came up shortly after the election. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has said it likely won’t make any difference since the main thing that designation does is put a halt on demolition for 90 days, and as we know they’re in no hurry to do anything permanent. There are other possibilities as well.

Meanwhile, a separate effort is afoot to get the Dome designated a national historic landmark, which would make it eligible for federal funding and also for designation as a state historic landmark – like the Alamo – which would bar demolition.

“That’s the ultimate goal,” said Cynthia Neely, who helped prepare an application to nominate the 1965 stadium for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Texas Historical Commission approved the application in October. Neely said she expects the National Park Service to add it to the register in January.

Ms. Neely has a long history with Astrodome advocacy. I think I remember seeing something about the Texas Historical Commission taking action, but this is the first I can recall hearing about the National Register of Historic Places possibly being involved. If that happens, I wonder what the implications would be for any private investors that may be lurking out there. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Will the real Bikinis, TX please stand up?

My head hurts, too.

It’s a story confusing enough to make your head hurt.

The owner of Austin-based Bikinis Sports Bar and Grill announced last week that he’d purchased the Hill Country town of Bankersmith and planned to rename it Bikinis, Texas — but some nearby residents insist the tract Doug Guller acquired isn’t the “real” Bankersmith, and records from the Texas State Historical Association don’t seem to clear up the dispute.

[…]

Visitors to Guller’s property are greeted by a bright blue “Bankersmith, Tx.” sign painted high atop a house on the 1.6-acre site. There’s another, smaller Bankersmith sign over the front door. A rusty bus and a travel trailer are also on the lot, which is off Old San Antonio Road.

Guller wouldn’t disclose the seller or the sale price.

Rudy Klinksiek says Bankersmith is actually located on an adjacent piece of property his family has owned for generations. Klinksiek’s land surrounds Guller’s property on three sides, he said.

Both of the tracts are about 10 miles south of Fredericksburg and six miles southwest of Luckenbach.

Klinksiek, who lives in Austin, insists the property Guller bought is not part of Bankersmith.

“That’s totally bogus,” Klinksiek said. “I’ve told him I own the town. It’s technically outside the town. It’s not really far, but it is.”

Remember that episode of “M*A*S*H” where Hawkeye declared Rosie’s bar to be an independent republic? I think they fashioned a flag for it out of someone’s underwear, but the memories are a bit hazy after all these years. Anyway, that’s what all this is beginning to remind me of. Let’s cut to the chase here: Doug Guller bought a piece of land that he has announced will be called “Bikinis, TX”. There will be activities appropriate for that name and Guller’s line of business on that piece of land in the future. Why anyone cares at this point whether the piece of land he bought was originally the now-defunct town of Bankersmith or just some other piece of land nearby is rather a mystery to me. I think we can all move on with our lives now.

When the waters recede

Another effect of the drought: Treasure unburies itself.

All across Texas, the bones of history lie in watery graves. From the ribs of sunken ships to the grave sites of prehistoric Texans, uncounted treasures abound beneath the surface of rivers and lakes. For state archaeologists, these sites are untapped treasures — hard to reach but relatively protected.

But now, with the state in the grip of devastating drought, such sites are emerging from receding waters and — for the first time in years, experts worry — becoming vulnerable to looters and vandals.

Since midsummer, the Texas Historical Commission, which oversees such locations, has on average learned of a newly exposed site each month, said Pat Mercado-Allinger, the agency’s archaeology director.

Among the sites are four cemeteries, including an apparent slave burial ground in Navarro County, southeast of Dallas. In Central Texas, fishermen recovered a human skull thought to be thousands of years old.

An unspecified number of additional sites have emerged from waters overseen by the Lower Colorado River Authority. An agency spokeswoman refused to discuss details, saying that even divulging the number of newly exposed sites could induce the unscrupulous to search out and pilfer them.

I don’t know what to say, other than “I sure hope it rains some more”.

The state of the state

Is strong, according to Rick Perry. So strong, in fact, that we’re going to kick the legs out of social services, because clearly we don’t need them.

When the state faced a budget crisis in 2003, Gov. Rick Perry’s office released a budget proposal that was full of zeros, stating that each agency would have to justify every dollar they spent. In 2011, the Governor has taken a different approach, releasing a budget with numbers.

Perry’s budget proposal slashes spending on the Health and Human Services Commission (providing about half of what the agency requested), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (providing only two-thirds of what the agency requested) and the Public Utilities Commission (only giving the PUC about 10% of what the agency requested).

Health and Human Services provides the state funding for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program. TCEQ regulates polluters, such as coal power plants and oil refineries. The TCEQ has been engaged in a long running battle with the EPA, which has long held that the TCEQ is far too lax when it comes to enforcing environmental law. The Public Utilities Commission regulates the state’s utilities and power grid. The state’s grid suffered from rolling blackouts during one of the coldest weeks in recent memory in Texas.

What’s a few blackouts among rugged individuals? Naturally, Perry doesn’t share in the sacrifice he’s calling on others to make, as his budget (a copy of which you can see here) calls for more money for his slush funds the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund. He also extracts some revenge on the Historical Commission for not giving his wife what she wanted in the reconstruction of the Governor’s Mansion. Classy.

You can read the full text of Perry’s remarks here if you really want to. My reaction is that the Lege is already working on budget proposals, and they’ve already heard a lot of testimony from people who would be directly harmed by them, about which the Governor might know something if he weren’t off traipsing around the country. He still wouldn’t care, of course, but at least he might know. Other reactions of which I’m aware:

Texas Liberal

Texas Watch

BOR, which has a few more reactions from others here

State Sen. Kirk Watson

Texas Forward

Various other legislative Democrats

The Texas State Teachers’ Association

State Rep. Armando Walle

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Paul Burka and Patricia Kilday Hart, who notes that Perry essentially refuted the idea of tuition deregulation in this speech

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez

State Rep. Lon Burnam

In the Pink

EoW

State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna

State Rep. Carol Alvarado

Abby Rapoport

Nick Anderson