Monday, November 11, 2013

Options to save the Astrodome

Of 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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Renovate the Astrodome to provide all of the functionality a new Reliant Arena is supposed to provide.
  6. 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.
In the meantime, someone has developed a clever flag to rally support around the Astrodome and prevent demolition.  Show your support and buy the shirt - I did.  



At 7:35 PM, November 11, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, there was a mayoral election in Houston so that should have increased turnout as compared to non-Houston areas of Harris County. Low turnout was not really the issue, it was the turnout of pro-proposition and anti-proposition areas. Houston was apparently pro-proposition. Was turnout in non-Houston (anti-proposition) areas higher than Houston?

I never saw proponents make a case for the need to additional exhibit space other than OTC or the HLSR. I was wondering if the space would be unused most of the time outside of OTC and the rodeo.

Also I'm somewhat peeved by the estimates for demolition, which are way overinflated in my opinion. Texas Stadium was demolished for $5.8 million plus about .71 million in planning/engineering and maybe a few other expenses. Call it $7 million total.

LET'S GET A FORMAL DEMOLITION PLAN AND QUOTES FROM DEMOLITION FIRMS SO WE HAVE A REAL NUMBER TO MAKE A DECISION. If it really costs $78 million (or similar) to demolish it, re-purposing may make more sense.

At 9:22 PM, November 11, 2013, Anonymous Chris Bronk said...

I remain torn on this. Yes NYC does miss its Penn Station, but 50 years later, it really is forgotten. I'm curious on the parking garage concept on the amount of time that would be required to empty the thing out after a football game.

At 9:30 PM, November 11, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I wondered about that too with the garage. The other problem with the garage plan is that it will always be much cheaper to build an equivalent size garage outside the dome than inside of it.

At 11:06 AM, November 12, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

7. Just let it go.

At 12:35 PM, November 12, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should make it into a year round tourist attraction.. Some possibilities:

Rebuild Astroworld in it. The 4th largest city in the US needs an amusement park.

Build an indoor ski resort and use the waste heat generated to heat a year round waterpark. For once we will get Colorado folks to ski in Texas instead of the other way around.

Possible funding through kickstarter or sell shares at $100 a piece. Just need to sell 2 million and you can fund a really nice project that will bring tourist dollars to the city all year.

At 10:49 PM, November 12, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Demo rates seem high, maybe they are adding the $30 million in debt to that figure. Also we have several ideas for the property, but we need to know the cost to get it repaired so we could repurpose it.

At 10:24 AM, November 17, 2013, Blogger Big T said...

The core problem with the Dome repurposing plan that the local politicians still have not addressed is that any such plan involves the investment of substantial public funds in an area that the Texans and the Rodeo mostly control.

Thus, absent a plan that the existing tenants support, it is highly unlikely that there would be any meaningful return on the investment of such public funds.

Similarly, attracting private investment for a plan from anyone other than the Texans and the Rodeo is a pipe dream. That fact is reflected by the failure to attract such investment over the past decade.

So, under these circumstances, what should we do?

My sense is that the leaders of Harris County, the Texans, the Rodeo, and the Texas Medical Center should attempt to come up with a repurposing plan for the Dome that all of those parties could support.

If those parties can't come up with a plan, then the Dome should be demolished.

At 3:59 PM, November 25, 2013, Anonymous Mike said...

"Yes NYC does miss its Penn Station, but 50 years later, it really is forgotten."

They've spent years trying to come up with $500 million to turn the adjacent post office building into a new Penn Station. I'd say that maybe Joe selling hot dogs has forgotten it, but people in government, people in planning, and ordinary citizens who know the city and revere its history have not forgotten it. It was a horrible, horrible mistake built on the American myth that the past is irrelevant and change is always progress.


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