Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Thoughts on the proposed Astrodome Park

I was really excited to hear Judge Emmett's proposal last week for converting the Astrodome into an indoor park (official proposal news release).  Although I have touted a big idea for the Astrodome as well as some smaller ones, my longest running proposal and backup plan has always been the one with an absolute minimum of capital requirements: an indoor festival park, first articulated here in 2005 and briefed to the Judge in 2009.  The benefits are huge:
  • Low cost, with the ability to incrementally add new features over the years as private funding is raised (like the zoo does).
  • Climate control and protect festivals, enabling Houston to have festivals year-round instead of in narrow spring and fall seasons, and with no rain-out risk.  We currently have 75-100 festivals a year in Houston subject to weather risk, according to the Judge.
  • Easy fit with the Rodeo and Texans' needs and contractual rights to NRG Park, including the option to just shut the park down during their days (although I doubt that would end up being the case).
  • And of course, historically preserving the world's first domed stadium(!!).  Did I mention the benefits were huge?
Here's my biggest thought on the design moving forward: the park inside the Astrodome should be design integrated with an outdoor festival park between the Astrodome and NRG (aka Reliant) Stadium. This will allow festivals to have a large outdoor component if the weather is nice, but also shift indoors if the weather forecast becomes problematic.  It's the best of both worlds.

Some other thoughts:
  • Could it include the proposed Houston Botanical Gardens that are looking for a home?  No freeze risk would allow for even more exotic tropical plants...
  • There's a proposal on HAIF for replacing the currently darkened ceiling panels with clear solar panels that would generate power to run that big air conditioner while also letting light through.  Love the idea if it's technically feasible and NRG is willing to sponsor them.
  • It would be cool if they could put a bike track in one of the upper level concourses.  Imagine the feeling of speed biking through essentially a long circular tunnel! (well, maybe with a view to one side if seating tiers get removed)
  • One of my original ideas was renovating the sky boxes to hold some of Houston's 92+ international consular offices, with each country's flag hanging in a giant circular ring around the dome, emphasizing Houston's international diversity (and reinforcing the international festivals that would be held there).  It would be very cool, but the tricky part would be having them operate during the Rodeo.
  • The Judge is saying parking will be free for the park, but I think they should consider keeping that revenue source on the table, considering what it will cost to run the air conditioning there.  I think the right model might be paid parking with some free days every month, just like the museums do. Parking and admission fees are perfectly normal for federal and state parks, I don't know why they shouldn't be considered for a local park too.  People will always have the option of riding the train there to avoid the parking charges.
  • Naming: how about "Historic Astrodome Park", which everybody would just call "Dome Park" for short?   
Finally, check out a very personal story from a sophomore at Rice (and a friend of mine) about what the Astrodome meant to him as he experienced the Hurricane Katrina evacuation as a child.

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3 Comments:

At 9:42 PM, September 03, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to see two things:

1. Develop a plan and get bids for demolishing the interior of the dome and reducing it to the outer shell. If anything is done with the dome, it will need to be reduced to the shell, and in the meantime it could be used as an indoor event space. (I realize the floor is depressed, it may need to be flattened to ground level)

2. Develop a plan for the complete demolition and get bids for the demolition.

This will be very useful information. I think the plan development will cost a few hundred thousand dollars.

 
At 4:11 PM, September 06, 2014, Anonymous Mike said...

Tory, I think you should keep pushing the technology museum idea. An indoor park just seems to intensify the same factors that killed indoor sports in the first place. Nobody born after 1980 wants to go to an indoor festival. It doesn't matter if it's climate controlled, it's dreary and fake. People don't want to park in a giant parking lot and walk inside a building for a festival the way they go to Walmart. I'm sad to say it because I want the building preserved, but I think county leaders are showing how out of touch they are.

The only idea that really has promise is a museum. Man-made entertainment/recreation complexes become outdated, usually in 30 years or so. Museums have staying power; they grow more interesting and venerable with age. We need, at the very least, someone who can make artist's renderings of what that domed space can look like with airplanes and rockets inside of it. You can't rely on people who don't have the vision to see the vision. It needs to be shown to them.

 
At 4:23 PM, September 06, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks, Mike. Good thoughts. I still have hope that the museum idea might develop down the road, but it will need 100s of millions. The park is probably a 10s of millions concept that the county can afford and can keep it preserved for another long term use. I hope the park does get good use, but if it doesn't, then this process will start all over again for a new use, and maybe by then a deep-pocketed patron will step forward to drive the museum concept.

 

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