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Saving the Astrodome and Houston’s History: Q&A with Architect John Cryer III

John N. Cryer III

HOUSTON – (Realty News Report) – Houston prides itself on being a new, vibrant metropolis.  New office buildings.  New multifamily developments. Gleaming new shopping centers.  But the city’s historical past shouldn’t be forgotten either and Houstonians are becoming more aware of preserving the past. Organizations such as Preservation Houston have helped save historic structures and restored homes and even have supported projects such the successful redevelopment of the landmark Rice Hotel as a market-rate apartment building. The Astrodome was once slated to be demolished but now has been ‘saved’ and repurposed. What does this say about the city?  To find out, Realty News Report sat down with John Cryer III, FAIA – Board emeritus – Page Southerland Page, Inc. and immediate past president of Preservation Houston.

Realty News Report: Too many times Houston has torn down its great buildings. Do you think saving the Astrodome help Houstonians learn to love its old buildings?

John Cryer III: Preservation has not been a high priority for Houston.  That fascination of something new was death to many of the wonderful historic pieces of architecture in Houston.   I think today there is far greater sensitivity to preservation.  Imagine if the Shamrock hotel had not been torn down, it would be a premiere hotel that is a huge symbol of Houston.  It would be enormously successful given its proximity to the Texas Medical Center.  Too often vision is lacking to see the possibilities for the future.

Realty News Report: What does wanting to preserve the Astrodome say about Houston?

John Cryer III: Successful preservation is usually achieved when a historical structure is adapted to a modern use.  A sport’s stadium will essentially always be an arena for events.  The contrast of the historical and contemporary is what makes successful preservation relevant and successful.  Historical architecture is more significant when it also preserves the history, the stories, and a legacy in a point in time.  That is why it makes the Astrodome important to preserve for Houston.  There are so many stories and folklore associated with the first domed stadium in the world that preserving it was important in preserving Houston’s past. The Astrodome is an interesting piece of Houston’s history.  While not a great example of architecture, it does represent the “bigger than life” and “can do anything” culture of Houston.  Saving it was driven by its symbolic nature.  Such a special purpose facility as the Astrodome is very difficult to repurpose since there just are not a lot of options for its use.  That combined with the economics of a building such as this and scale limit the options.

NOTE: The Astrodome Conservancy and 8th Wonder Brewery will hold a fundraiser at the brewery, 2202 Dallas St., on Friday June 29th from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. $25 suggested donation and a portion of all food and beverage sales will go to the support of the rebirth of the Dome.

Realty News Report: County Judge Ed Emmett has championed turning the Astrodome into the world’s largest indoor park or an expo venue.  What’s your opinion of that idea?

John Cryer III: Certainly, an indoor venue such as unique park is a possibility.  The challenge is that whatever venue it supports must provide revenue.  That is the challenge.  Many ideas have been suggested such as the world’s largest indoor roller coaster, sports performance training for young athletes, and some form of exhibition center. My suspicion is that its use will evolve over time.

Realty News Report: What about the location of the Astrodome? If the Astro impresarios – R.E. “Bob” Smith and Judge Roy Hofheinz — had located it downtown instead of 610 at Kirby, how would that have changed the growth of the city?

John Cryer III: Downtown would have been a better location for long term potential.  One only has to look at three major sports venues are all located currently downtown.  It would have huge surrounding venues that could provide multiple uses.  Currently it is a destination and pretty much limited use.  It is positive that it is connected by rail.

Realty News Report: Even now, 50 years later, there’s still vacant land around the Dome. Are stadiums really growth generators for commercial real estate?

John Cryer III: Interestingly this area of town (The Astrodome is located at Kirby Drive near South Loop 610) has not developed.  I am not sure development will happen.  It may become a destination, but given the sporadic use of sports venues, it just is not a great economic driver for development.  We are also entering a period of the politicization of certain sports combined with the focus on injuries, it could begin to see a decline.

Realty News Report: What’s your prediction about the future of Houston?  Will Houston remain the “can do” city it has always been?

John Cryer III: The diversity of Houston has been driven by energy and medicine.  Houston energy leaders have worked all over the world and, as a result, have built relationships with local governments and people.   There are multi-culture families and multi-cultural business skills and relationships.  We have become a melting pot linked together through business and science.  There is no other City that can compare to the homogenized spirit of Houston.  As a result, Houston will be the City that becomes iconic on the national stage as one that broke down barriers and continued the “can do” culture.

Realty News Report: Houstonians have endured numerous floods and other problems Mother Nature has thrown at it.  What makes Houston so resilient? Is there something special in Houston’s DNA??

John Cryer III: Clearly Houston has an infrastructure challenge.  Houston has exhibited resilience, but it is time to exhibit brilliance.  Water and storm management is the single largest challenge that Houston must address, or it will not be seen on the world stage as the leader that it deserves.

Realty News Report: Where do you see Houston’ future expansion?

John Cryer III: Houston’s expansion will be in the central business district.  This will be driven by long term national trends, but also the I-45 reconfiguration, the $7 billion rebuilding of the freeway system around downtown and midtown.  The future of the automobile is facing dramatic change.  Unlimited land in 360 degrees and no natural edge will no longer continue the horizontal expansion.  Culture shifts and economics will consolidate future expansion around more of a central core.

June 26, 2018 Realty News Report Copyright 2018

Realty News Report Editor Ralph Bivins recently won the prestigious Gold Award for Best Real Estate Column from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  The winning column was about Houston’s historic Astrodome. CLICK HERE to read the award-winning column.

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