Spotlight Shines on Historic Astrodome

HOUSTON – (By Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report) – College basketball’s biggest event – the Final Four playoffs – placed Houston in the national spotlight this weekend. The national championship game is Monday night.

The CBS cameras will broadcast footage of Houston to the whole world. If you were watching Saturday you probably noticed the exterior shots showing the Astrodome, sitting vacant next to NRG Stadium.

Yes, vacant. The world’s first roofed and air-conditioned stadium, which opened in 1965 and hasn’t hosted a real event since 2009.

Yes, vacant. Houston’s most famous edifice. It’s hosted Presidents, astronauts, athletes and Bob Dylan – America’s finest songwriter, poet and performer.

“Yes, the Dome needs to be saved. Yes, it’s usable.” – Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. 2015.

Experts have studied the Dome and planned a new future for this historical landmark. But leaders have failed to move the plans ahead. Houston’s philanthropists stand on the sidelines. Where is the leader who can articulate a new vision for the Astrodome and motivate the citizenry to participate? What needs to be done?

ULI Advisory Panel examines the Astrodome in Houston in 2015. Photo by Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report. Copyright 2023

Can’t the Astrodome rise again to its rightful place as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” and become a world-famous attraction again?

The basketball tourists in Houston this weekend aren’t spending much time around the NRG Stadium and the adjacent Astrodome. Located five miles south of downtown, the NRG/Astrodome area has a shortage of five-star hotels, great restaurants and walkable retail districts. So, the mass of Final Four visitors are staying in downtown Houston or the Galleria area. After the National Championship game Monday night people won’t come out of the stadium and walk across the street to celebrate in nearby bars.

A redeveloped Astrodome could be the core of a turnaround. This county-owned acreage and its surrounds could be the aorta that gets a heartbeat going again in the stadium area around Kirby Drive and Loop 610.

What needs to be done?

One: Think of the 350 acres around Astrodome/NRG as the site of a redevelopment zone. This is where a world-class attraction will be created. Think: the cover of Time magazine. The Astrodome was the epicenter of innovation in 1965 and it will be that again within the next decade.

Two: Hop on a bulldozer first thing Monday morning and tear down the fences surrounding the perimeter of the county-owned site. The people own this land. Let them walk on it, ride bicycles and spread out a picnic blanket on it.  Security closely around the stadium is one thing. But fencing-in 300 acres is overkill. Do fences surround the entire Minute Maid Park district? No. The Toyota Arena? No. The George R. Brown Convention Center? No. Give the Astrodome/NRG land back to the people in a park.

Three: A multi-disciplinary group of national real estate experts from the Urban Land Institute studied the Astrodome acreage in 2015 and said greenspace was needed. So true. Having a surface of 25,000 concrete parking spaces does not make for a grand environment. Create a 100-foot wide green walkway across the parking desert leading to the Metro rail station on Fannin.

NEW IDEA ONE: Enlist the expertise of Texan Elon Musk and his tunnel-building firm, The Boring Company. Musk’s firm has completed a tunnel network leading to the Las Vegas Convention Center from the new Resort World Hilton on The Strip. Hop in an underground Tesla and drivers will transport you to the convention center in a clean well-lit tunnel. I can attest: the Las Vegas Tesla tunnel worked with fine-tuned efficiency earlier this year. The roads around the Astrodome/NRG property are not exactly the most pedestrian friendly streets in Houston. So tunnel under Kirby Drive, Fannin and Loop 610. The new restaurants at the Astrodome will need weekday customers. Why not use a Tesla tunnel to connect the Astrodome to the Texas Medical Center about two miles away? Over 120,000 people work at the medical center, where some 26,000 babies are born every year.

A Collect Call for Mr. Tilman Fertitta. WIll you accept it?

NEW IDEA TWO: Sports betting is exploding with fast growth. The Astrodome is about 200 steps away from NRG Stadium where the NFL’s Houston Texans play. Sounds like a perfect union resulting in 24-hour-a-day activity. Houstonian Tilman Fertitta is highly successful with his empire of hotels, restaurants and Golden Nugget casinos – so why not get Tilman to transform the Dome to a casino with hotel rooms and restaurants inside the Astrodome? It would create thousands of jobs and throw off a lot of tax revenue. This would take some movement by the Texas Legislature. But perhaps it is time for the powers in Austin to take a broader view of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If you are morally opposed to gambling, then don’t go to the casino. Today, gamblers from Texas just drive across the Louisiana border to roll their dice. The Astrodome is large enough to include some other uses such as multifamily residential, and of course, a wedding chapel. For Tilman, who also owns the Houston Rockets NBA team, the Astrodome redevelopment could be a crowning achievement to his career. At 65 years of age, Tilman may be eager to tackle this big legacy challenge in his hometown.


April 3, 2023 Realty News Report Copyright 2023

Photo Credits: Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report Copyright 2023

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