An Astro-nomical blunder for Houston?When Major League Soccer first came to Houston, I questioned the need for a new stadium with both Reliant and the Astrodome available (part 1, part 2). Since then, the Dynamo have won two national championships, and are well on their way to becoming a popular sports franchise in this town, with the potential to draw very large crowds over time. Yet now we're looking at a brand-new $80-million outdoor stadium near Minute Maid for a summer season sport in Houston (and can you imagine the parking nightmare when both teams have a game?). Meanwhile, the climate-controlled Astrodome hotel redevelopment deal is disintegrating, and an incredible piece of history - the world's first domed stadium - is at risk of demolition. What's wrong with this picture?
Others noted the blindingly obvious in the Chronicle editorial letters this morning, including this excerpt from James Glassman:
Let's give soccer champs, the Houston Dynamo, a home in the Astrodome. After two years as a guest at UH's Robertson Stadium, it's time the Dynamo had a permanent home. Reimagining the fabled Astrodome into a world-class, state-of-the-art soccer stadium is easy to do.Commenters have noted that they want a "more intimate" setting for around 22,000 rather than 60,000. But couldn't that be accomplished with an interior makeover? Move in or reconstruct the lower tier seats, and block the upper tiers with curtains or giant flags/posters/billboards? And if we did attract something on the level of the World Cup, we would have the option to open up those seats. Let some expert architects or interior designers at it, and I'm sure all sorts of creative solutions could be found. It would be far less expensive than a new one, while preserving an amazing piece of history - not to mention being a climate-controlled environment that will attract a much wider fan base on sweltering - and thunderstorm-prone - summer days.
How difficult would it be to transform the former football and baseball stadium into a Major League Soccer stadium? Of course, the legendary Astro Turf would have to go in favor of real grass. This would pose a problem for the semi-opaque ceiling. We could return the Astrodome ceiling to clear glass spanning the gaps in the beautiful steel structure. The structural steel beams could be painted Dynamo Orange, with a soccer ball pattern on the roof. Seating, concessions, parking and utilities are all there! The newly dubbed Dynamo Dome could also be host to other soccer events. Could Houston host the World Cup? It could in the Dynamo Dome.
Mayor White and County Judge Emmett need to get their heads together and figure this out before the window of opportunity closes. We've given the hotel group more than enough time to get their act together. Give the hotel a short deadline to get a locked financing deal plus Texan and Rodeo approval, and at the same time commission an architectural concept for redoing the Astrodome interior to meet the Dynamo's needs. If the hotel can't meet the deadline, then it's time to begin a Second Golden Age of sports under the Dome - which I believe has the potential to become a beloved icon of Houston's history and identity the way Fenway Park is for Boston or Wrigley Field is for Chicago.
Will we seize this incredible opportunity for Houston's past and future, or just let it quietly slip away?