Renovation plans for Astrodome revealed
Fate of historic landmark to be decided through referendum
The Houston Astrodome, the iconic former home of the Astros and Oilers, may soon get another day to protect people from the hot Texas sun.
Local officials unveiled a $1.35 billion plan on Monday to renovate the famed structure and convert it into a convention and science center if area taxpayers are willing to contribute to the cost, The Associated Press reported on Monday night.
"This is a great landmark for the city of Houston," said Edgar Colon, chairman of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., told the AP. "We would like to see it stay that way and hopefully see it returned to its rightful place as the 'Eighth Wonder of the World.'"
Since the Astros left for Minute Maid Park, a baseball-only facility, before the 2000 season, the nation's first indoor, air-conditioned, multi-use stadium has sat mostly idle and is waiting for a decision on its next role. The facility is reportedly costing local officials about $2 million a year in insurance and maintenance and more in debt and interest payments. The structure is part of Reliant Park, which includes Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans.
There have been several options laid out for the re-purposing of the Dome and the surrounding land. The first, carrying the $1.35 billion price tag, would create a major property to be named the Astrodome Renaissance. The property would feature a science center, a planetarium, several museums and a conference center. A hotel and movie studios have also been mentioned as possibilities for the area, but those would come through private financing.
Another option carries the possibility of leveling the dome and replacing it with a plaza. That option is estimated to cost nearly $873 million, Mark Miller, general manager of SMG-Reliant Park, told the AP.
A third, intermediate option calls for the renovation and re-purposing of the structure in order to make it suitable for a science and technology center as well as a storage facility. That option carries a $1.13 billion price tag.
The issue of updating the Astrodome is not without emotional attachment for many area officials, including Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp.
"Our intent is to update it, but not to the point that we make it unrecognizable or spoil visually what it means to so many of us," Loston told the Houston Chronicle in a report published on Monday night.
The taxpayers of Harris County would be responsible for picking up no less than a third of any renovation cost, Miller told the AP. Any measure would need to be approved by the public through a referendum vote.
A plan should be adopted for the Astrodome by the end of the year, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told the AP. A public referendum will be used to help choose an option, but the Astrodome's final fate will come down to finances, said Loston.
Renovations to the Astrodome, which opened in 1965, would preserve the landmark made famous by the unmistakable dome that protected fans from the searing Houston heat, its introduction of Astroturf and the 474-foot scoreboard that erupted into a frenzy after Astros home runs and victories. It was the first indoor baseball facility, but it wouldn't be the last, as it sparked a trend of dome-building in such cities as Toronto, Minneapolis and Seattle.
The first contest at the Astrodome was attended by President Lyndon B. Johnson and nearly 48,000 others on April 9, 1965. The Astros won the exhibition game against the Yankees, 2-1 in 12 innings, but not before Mickey Mantle christened the stadium with its first home run.
In the years since the Astros' departure, the Astrodome has been used for humanitarian efforts, and served as a place of refuge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Nearly 23,000 evacuees took up shelter in the there, greeted by volunteers offering medical help, clothing, toys and food.
Now the fate of the Astrodome lies heavily in the public's hands. And Loston, for one, is optimistic about their response.
"I cannot wait to see what happens," he told the Chronicle. "I don't think it will take us long to find out where the public is. I don't think it will be a long tale on that. How you react is the next question."
Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.