Sunday, November 25, 2007

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.

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.
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.

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?



At 8:36 AM, November 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people dont want to see the astrodome go. Personally, its time has come.

Build the new stadium on the east side and watch that section of town prosper!

At 12:05 PM, November 26, 2007, Blogger ian said...

I think the Astrodome suggestion is a great one. I personally don't have the same emotional ties to the Dome as seemingly most other Houstonians, but tearing it down and building a new soccer stadium seems monumentally wasteful. I also strongly feel that downtown will not benefit at all from another sports venue. It seems to me that clumping all your special-use buildings in one area will render that area devoid of all activity and life outside of scheduled event times. If a new stadium absolutely has to be built, I would put it somewhere outside of our currently designated "sports zones."

At 1:53 PM, November 26, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Ian's comment made me think of something else, which I also added at the top of the main post: can you imagine the parking nightmare when the Astros and Dynamo have games on the same day with adjacent downtown stadiums? And they basically share the same season - so there will definitely be overlapping games. And this is on top of the fact that the new soccer stadium actually takes away surface parking from Minute Maid.

At 2:37 PM, November 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your assumption that the surface lot will be used to build the stadium is only an assumption. There is a good chance that the stadium will be built on a different tract of land. Lets wait and see before we make assumptions about parking.

Last season, only 2 games were played at the same time, and that was with no planning to avoid such overlap. I am sure that with just a little coordination, no games would overlap at all.

I have never paid more than $5 to park for a baseball game. If the demand for parking is so high, then why doesnt the price reflect that?

Using the astrodome for a soccer arena just doesnt make sense. Its cheaper, but that doesnt mean its better. We got something magical going here with the Dynamo's. Will it last? I have no idea. However, putting the Dynamo's into an arena that doesnt attract a fan base is a bad move. I've been to several night games for the Dynamos. There is something about the open air, small scale of Roberston Stadium. Done correctly, and with proper scheduling, a new outdoor arena will be very attractive to fans.

At 5:54 PM, November 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Minute Maid parking lot has been ruled out as a site for the stadium. Additionally, parking around MMP has been growing, with an addition to the Harris Co. parking garage and the garage under the new park. There will also be a garage built with the new office tower adjacent to the park. Those who cannot find a parking space are not trying.

As for the Dome, air conditioning may add comfort, but it adds an incredible cost as well. And, the retrofit could easily exceed the $80 million price tag for a new outdoor stadium. Dynamo fans have proven to be hardy souls, unlike the football fans who nearly revolted when the Texans open the roof in 80 degree weather. An open air stadium with a shade structure, and perhaps some innovative use of fans or misters would be a greener and more impressive structure.

Besides, who's to say that the same forces of evil that conspired to thwart the reuse of the Dome will not also see a championship caliber soccer team as a threat as well?

At 10:48 PM, November 26, 2007, Blogger Charles Kuffner said...

You're overlooking one key fact: The Dynamo, who are putting up most of the money for their new stadium, clearly don't want to use the Dome (and I for one don't blame them). So which is preferable, a 90%-privately funded new stadium, or a publicly funded renovation of the Astrodome? Remember, the franchise left San Jose because they couldn't swing a stadium deal. Why would they all of a sudden decide that being a tenant in the Dome is what they want?

At 8:01 AM, November 27, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Their private money could go towards interior dome renovations. They would have a fully climate-controlled facility with tons of corporate suites, and the ability to expand seating for world cup matches. They could completely control the Astrodome - same as they would a private stadium, including all concessions.

I understand the core Dynamo fan base is "hardy" enough for outdoor summer games in Houston, but, long-term, if they want to draw the big crowds, including families, they'll need climate control - just as the NFL and MLB discovered.

I also think the public would be more amenable to public money to preserve the Dome than to support infrastructure for a new one. And the Dynamo could really come out big winners in the public's eyes.

At 10:59 AM, November 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we should re-use the Astrodome for another sport, perhaps NASCAR or a tight Champ Car track.

Redscare is right: Soccer fans are more urbane, and more likely to be hispanic. Both demographics are more comfortable in heat and humidity then football's base of suburban anglos who spend most of their days hiding out in A/C'ed office buildings and mcmansions.

---Anonymous #5

At 11:16 AM, November 27, 2007, Blogger ian said...

Hurrah for racial stereotypes! They sure do add a lot to the dialogue, don't they?

At 1:21 PM, November 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the shoe fits...

There is nothing wrong with stating the obvious. If you're offended, get over it. No one has a right to not be offended.

Anyway, and remodeling of the Astrodome will cost way more than a new stadium. The dome has reach a point of no return for re-use as it's original purpose. This is according to the maintenance crews reports to the County Commissioners.

At 5:46 PM, November 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. having the polish and suavity regarded as characteristic of sophisticated social life in major cities: an urbane manner.
2. reflecting elegance, sophistication, etc., esp. in expression: He maintained an urbane tone in his letters.

If you are going to start stereotyping at least get them right.

At 12:40 PM, November 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember going to the Houston Hurricane (soccer team) games in the Dome back in the 1970s, and I agree that the facility is too large for events that draw a few thousand fans. Even with a remodel, it may not be "intimate" enough.

It seems like the view of Harris County is to find some event or activity that can be made to fit in the Dome, but it always seems to be a case of fitting a square peg in a round hole. Of course, you can fit a square peg in a round hole with a lot of taxpayer money.

What is historically significant about the Dome? It seems like the prevailing view is the building shell, since most proposals would totally gut it.

I say the dome needs to be torn down. But if we must preserve the shell, then strip out the interior leaving only the shell, and raise the floor to ground level. It can then be used for Rodeo fairgrounds, festivals(as advocated by Tory), parking during Texans games, and possibly exhibit space during OTC.

At 5:19 PM, November 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I like this idea.

I think any idea that moves forward that will retail the shell needs to remove the concept of climate control. Whether it be the parking garage idea or the open festivals idea.

Fans ands shade can do wonders in cooler versus wasting money with AC

At 12:34 PM, November 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to an FC Dallas soccer game in Pizza Hut Park, a recently built open-air stadium, and I'd have to say the atmosphere was much better than any game in the dome could be. The Astrodome is oversized, out of date, and kind of depressing. Soccer in Houston needs a fresh, new home of its own, not the over-scaled monster that other sports teams lost playoff after playoff in before abandoning.

At 9:36 PM, December 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who attends every Dynamo game, I would not be supportive of a astrodome/dynamo joint venture. The argument that the astrodome could host a potential world cup match is not the right reason to support its use.
1. Reliant can host world class soccer (it already has and will again in feb for example).
2. The United States is likely decades away from hosting another world cup
Anyways...great blog, I just stumbled on it today and I am checking out backposts!


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