Options to save the AstrodomeOf course I was bitterly disappointed by the defeat of the Astrodome renovation bonds last week, especially given that all of the polls had it passing easily. It looks like those polls created an unwarranted sense of complacency both among campaigners and pro-Astrodome voters who didn't turn out. Based on the outpouring of "don't demolish it!" sentiment over the last week, I'd say the majority clearly support re-purposing it, they just didn't bother to vote (13% turnout!).
In case you missed it, the architecture critic at the LA Times made a passionate argument for saving it, including this powerful opening statement:
Forget Monticello or the Chrysler building: There may be no piece of architecture more quintessentially American than the Astrodome.
Widely copied after it opened in 1965, it perfectly embodies postwar U.S. culture in its brash combination of Space Age glamour, broad-shouldered scale and total climate control.Wow. If we tear the Astrodome down, I'm convinced it will become Houston's Penn Station moment, forever regretted.
So what are our options to keep it from being demolished? Here are my thoughts in rough order of increasing cost:
- Mothball it, minimize maintenance costs, and wait and see if a more compelling option backed by private money comes forward at some point. The high cost of demolition in both dollars and potential regret can be avoided.
- Invest the minimum amount possible to make it a festival park for year-round climate controlled festivals (rather than just the spring and fall as they do now). I'd say that involves fixing the climate control and giving access to the floor while cordoning off/mothballing all of the upper levels. This also preserves future options.
- Value engineer the Slattery proposal to strip it down to a steel structure over a greenspace park (similar to the Eiffel Tower) at a cost marginally above full demolition ($78 to $98m). Get input from the OTC and Rodeo on how to structure the covered/rain-protected greenspace best for their needs.
- Revamp the proposal and try again next year when more voters will turn out for congressional elections and pro-Astrodome forces can mount a more effective campaign.
- Renovate the Astrodome to provide all of the functionality a new Reliant Arena is supposed to provide.
- Find wealthy backers to support the STEM institute/museum concept (big picture) or Astrodome Tomorrow's concept. They don't necessarily have to support the full cost, but enough to justify a public-private partnership.