State of the County headlines Astrodome statusI was able to attend Judge Emmett's State of the County address last week (Chronicle front page coverage here), and was very excited to hear his headline focus on the future of the Astrodome matches my previously posted ideas (and follow-up). A minimalist upgrade into a festival and events venue could bring in more than enough annual revenue to support its maintenance as a historic structure (as he pointed out that we did not do with the Shamrock Hotel). He emphasized this was his personal opinion, but a consensus of the Commissioners Court was required, including El Franco Lee's interest in a STEM education institute. But he wants a decision this year on a plan that can then go to the voters. Hear, hear!
Here are some other points from his speech that made it into my notes:
- The county has a $1.2 billion annual budget and they're dealing with a 3% drop from last year - tight but not a disaster.
- We need to improve our water, air, rail, and road transportation infrastructure to take advantage of our potential as a key gateway to North America, especially as the Panama Canal gets expanded.
- HCTRA will continue to work on widening the south Beltway 8, building the Hempstead toll road, and extending the Hardy into downtown, but we must also continue other improvements like building the Grand Parkway and making freight rail improvements, both of which are reliant on TXDoT at this point.
- Harris County is the 3rd most populated county in the nation, and has more people than 24 states (!) - although I'll add that we're at risk of being passed by Arizona's 5x geographically larger Maricopa County (i.e. Phoenix metro) soon. The 2010 Census pegs the county at just over 4 million people. He believes the Hispanic story is overhyped as the lines blur in our diverse mix, and that race is a nonissue as far as he's concerned: the focus is on providing services to all residents of the county, period.
Overall, an impressive man doing a great job made an excellent speech about a county doing very well compared to most of the rest of the country.