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Ed Emmett’s Home Run: Astrodome Saved From Wrecking Ball

Ed Emmett

Ed Emmett

HOUSTON – On April 9, 1965, Mickey Mantle hit the first home run in the Astrodome.

On September 27, 2016, another Astrodome homer was accomplished by Ed Emmett. Emmett, Harrris County Judge, has led a movement to save the Astrodome – the world’s first domed stadium that was known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened in 1960s.

Led by Emmett, the Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to preserve and revitalize one of the most famous buildings in the United States, agreeing on a $105 million plan to raise the Astrodome floor, provide two levels of underground parking and convert the building’s 550,000-SF into useable public space.

Court members unanimously authorized the Office of the County Engineer to spend $10.5 million on the plan’s initial engineering and architectural phase.

Some people in Houston had promoted the idea of demolishing the stadium, which sits next to the soulless NRG Stadium, where the NFL’s Houston Texans play about a dozen times a year. The NGR stadium sits amid acres of pavement used for parking with 26,000 parking spaces that sit mostly unused on most days of the year.

Saving the Astrodome, rather than tearing it down for more parking, preserves a notable building – the most famous building in Houston. Plus demolition of the Dome would have cost $35 million – a big price to pay for more parking spaces that aren’t used very often. The Dome has been sitting vacant for years, after the Astros and the Oilers decided the historic stadium didn’t suit their needs.

The Harris County Commissioner’s vote was a crucial step in preserving the Astrodome, The next step will be to present the plan to the Texas Historical Commission, which must approve any substantive alterations to the 51-year-old county-owned structure.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the county will spend $105 million to raise the Astrodome floor 30 feet to ground level and install 1,400 underground parking spaces. Numerous studies and recommendations have shown that elevating the floor to ground level vastly improves accessibility and the ability to redevelop and use the Dome’s interior, and the increased parking will generate more revenue for that redevelopment. The floor of the Dome can be used for display and convention space for the rodeo or big pieces of equipment during the massive Offshore Technology Conference or entertainment before of after a  football game.

The county will spend a maximum of $35 million from the general fund on the development. The remaining $70 million will come from hotel occupancy tax and parking revenue. The taxpayers’ share may be lowered even further through tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) and lease revenue, as well as historical tax credits – meaning their cost to save the Astrodome would be even less than the $35 million estimated demolition cost.

“The Astrodome’s days of sitting idle and abandoned are over,” said County Judge Emmett. “Instead, Harris County’s most recognized building will again be proud and useful – as host to thousands of area residents attending a variety of business and community events. Hundreds of people worked very hard to see that happen, and I’m proud that this day has finally arrived.”

The Astrodome – an accomplishment in engineering that symbolizes Houston’s can-do spirit – should be used for years to come. Buildings in Europe stand for centuries. Over the years, Houston’s leaders have been too quick to demolish our history. Saving the Dome changes that.

(Commentary by Ralph Bivins, Editor, Realty News Report)

Sept. 28, 2016 Realty News Report Copyright 2016

2 comments

  1. Ralph:
    I have always been in virtual 100% agreement with your published opinions, but think you missed this one. Ignoring a public vote and preserving a replaced and architecturally unattractive building at significant taxpayer expense, all for an uncertain future, in the face and at the expense of other significant and important County needs is irresponsible. I understand that the Dome was a great achievement and source of civic pride at the time, but the achievement of innovation and engineering would not be erased by the wrecking ball, only the immense physical relic that stands in the way of a higher and better use. Houston’s civic pride is not tied to the Astrodome, despite the nostalgia of those that grew up going to games there. Lots of fans our age have had similar attachments to the old stadiums in their cities, all of which have been torn down, and many of which would have provided a more viable economic future and were architectural more significant than the Dome.

    • Doug – It would cost $30 million to demolish and all it would yield is more ugly surface parking lot. This was more than a stadium, it is the embodiment of Houston’s can-do spirit, a unique trait. The adpative ureuse of the building delivers 1,400 covered parking space, plus a lot of sorely needed under-roof expo space for OTC equipment or rodeo events.

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