Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston reported yesterday that for the first time, the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo back a plan that would renovate the Astrodome and expand and renovate portions of Reliant Park.
The Dome has been a decaying albatross since Bud Adams made the decision to take his toys to Nashville, so yes, something needs to be done.
There’s no need to review the painful details of how we lost our NFL team. But we should never forget how Harris County taxpayers were left paying most of the bill for the renovation of the Dome in 1988 which temporarily pacified the [fill in the blank] Oilers owner and kept him from moving to Jacksonville – which was the threat at the time.
As you read about this latest idea for a publicly funded “convention and education center, planetarium and movie studio,” (that could cost up to $700 million in taxpayer money) keep in mind that as recently as 2008 there was a line item in the Harris County Budget for “1988 Astrodome Improvement.’ That’s 20+ years of payments for Harris County taxpayers on our share of the bill which was around $68 million.
Also keep in mind that the total construction cost for Reliant Stadium was less than $400 million.
A publicly funded planetarium and movie studio? Are you kidding me?
And what about the George R. Brown Convention Center and the publicly funded Hilton Americas hotel downtown? Do we have competing interests here – with both depending on public financing?
At least the new plan for Hotel Astrodome is only going to happen if it’s privately funded. But think about it. What’s the draw to that area of the city other than 8 weekends in the fall for football and three weeks in February and March for the rodeo? I guess there’s always Medical Center overflow – it would improve ridership on those publicly funded empty rail cars that roll through that corridor.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of memories wrapped up in the Dome.
I first set foot in there in 1972 or ’73 for an Astros game. I attended many Astros games including some of the playoff games against the Phillies and the Mets in ’80 and ’86.
My first Oilers game was in 1976 (it was against the Raiders in late September). I attended every Oilers game in that place from 1978-96 – except for the one when my daughter was born (Chiefs game in October, 1988… I tried to get my wife to hold off until Monday but she was in a hurry).
I went to a bunch of UH games in there and saw my fair share of motorcycle stunts and concerts and other odds and ends events in that big ol’ barn. I had to duck once to avoid being hit by Pete Rose’s bat as it flew into the stands just above the Astros on-deck circle. I loved the Dome. I have special memories of that place.
But sentimental value aside, I’m a practical person. And there’s no planetarium, movie studio or hotel worth it’s salt that will save that building.
These new dreamy ideas have been coming and going for years but it’s time to move on. Implode it. Create a green space that tailgaters and rodeo patrons can enjoy, and maybe add some parking. Put up a few monuments where Earl ran along the sidelines for that famous TD against the Dolphins in 1978, or where Lew Alcindor posted up Elvin Hayes. Or where Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan stepped off the rubber to throw the last pitch of their no-hitters.
The Dome has served its purpose. Don’t cheapen it plus have the audacity to pass on yet another huge burden to Harris County taxpayers for a venture that has no guarantee of success.
Just say no and lets be done with it.