HOUSTON – (By Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report) – Currently gathering dust, the Eighth Wonder of the World will soon be surrounded by the smell of fried pickles and the pleasant, soothing sounds of carnival rides associated with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
For about a month, the Rodeo dominates what was formerly the Astrodome’s parking lot and adjacent acreage, then the place returns to normal – which is vacant and lonely most days.
The Astrodome sits quietly empty. The existing county government, sans Ed Emmett, now frets and quibbles about the cost of replacing the air conditioning in the Dome. The lack of vision by the current power people is far removed from Astrodome father Judge Roy Hofheinz, a man of stature and inspirational vision.
Considering the challenges tackled by Hofheinz and the Harris County leaders of the early 1960s, should make the today’s leaders ashamed for their lack of vision and courage. Fixing an air conditioner is small potatoes when you compare it to Judge Hofheinz looking at a vacant field and envisioning the world’s first air-conditioned stadium.
Those of you who have read my book, Houston 2020: America’s Boom Town, understand the importance of this great historical edifice.
Soon the Rodeo will be gone again, the gates will be locked and the public, which owns these 300 acres, will be denied access. So, our city sits with under-utilized pavement – and a lot of vacant storage dirt on the south side of the freeway. This Metro Rail-served Astrodome property is just over a mile from the Texas Medical Center with frontage on major roads including Loop 610 and Kirby Drive. Owning prime public land that sits untouched is like keeping cash in a rip-off savings account drawing 0.001 percent interest.
The former Astrodomain should be a world-class public space, which would honor the memory of the courage and foresight of our former leaders.
What to do with the Dome?
The easiest fix would be to reach out to Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta, a restaurateur, hotelier and owner of the Golden Nugget casino hotels.
Push a special, one-site-only bill through the Texas Legislature and you get a Golden Nugget casino hotel inside the Dome. Install a bunch of Tilman’s restaurants and some extra attractions. And BOOM – we’ve got a 24-7 entertainment facility, throwing off a lot of tax revenue for state and local government.
Tilman, who was born in 1957, could make the Golden Nugget Dome his legacy project for the city.
The Dome should be a lot more than a casino hotel. But it’s an easy fix, once you get it through the Legislature.
Another concept recently articulated by Frank Blackwood, an industrial real estate broker at Lee & Associates – Houston, centers around the energy industry.
Put an oil and gas commodity exchange in the Dome, Blackwood postulates. It’s fitting since Houston is The Energy Capital of the World. The Dome could showcase exhibits from with the Offshore Technology Conference, an annual convention at the hulking NRG complex next to the Dome.
NYMEX (the New York Mercantile Exchange operated by the CME Group) has offices in Atlanta, San Francisco, Dubai and elsewhere, but not Houston. NYMEX handles energy futures and options contracts worth billions and it should have an office in the Dome, Blackwood says.
I commend Blackwood for his ambition and creative thinking. And with energy-focused investment banker Bobby Tudor of Tudor Pickering Holt serving as chair of the Greater Houston Partnership this year, Houston should focus on getting a NYMEX office somewhere in the Energy Capital of the World immediately.
But a NYMEX facility alone is not enough to transform the massive Dome. And frankly, it’s a little late in the game to be celebrating fossil fuels.
The Astrodome, which opened on April 9, 1965 with a home run by Mickey Mantle, deserves to be much more – more than a casino, more than a NYMEX center.
Step One is taking down the perimeter fences around the Astrodomain. Let the people have access to the property they own.
But the ultimate vision for the Dome needs to be much grander. The Eighth Wonder of the World deserves more.
March 4, 2020 Realty News Report Copyright 2020
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