Despite ‘no’ vote, some hold out hope of saving Astrodome
HOUSTON | Indoor skiing. Amusement park. Water park. Sports memorabilia museum. Riverwalk, though there is only a bayou. And, most recently, a $217 million multipurpose facility.
There has been no shortage of proposals for how to save the Houston Astrodome.
Yet now, nearly 15 years after the last professional sports team left the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World to decay under the relentless Texas sun, voters rejected what some county officials had touted as the only way to save the prized dome from demolition.
A bond referendum would have turned the stadium, once home to MLB’s Houston Astros and the NFL’s Houston Oilers, into a convention and events center. Harris County voted against it, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Still, this might not be the stadium’s last inning.
“There’s a chance,” said Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, caretaker of the Astrodome and the rest of the vast complex it’s part of, which also includes the Houston Texans’ Reliant Stadium. “The building’s still there. There’s no formal plan or authorization to demolish the building, and until somebody brings such a plan to fruition, there’s a chance.”
A decision is not on the horizon, though. County commissioners are in no rush to approve demolition and waver on other options.
“It’s up in the air,” said Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. “The proposal was rejected by the voters. We’re back to where we were. Square one.”
The structure was a technological marvel when it opened in 1965, the first domed, air-conditioned stadium. But since 1999, the Astrodome has been a nostalgic symbol of a bygone era. The days when Mickey Mantle hit home runs on AstroTurf, Elvis Presley swooned and crooned and Billie Jean King took on Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match are faded memories. Even the dome’s most prominent recent residents — Hurricane Katrina evacuees — have been gone for years.
The county still pays some $2.5 million annually to maintain, power and insure the stadium. It’s also paying $8 million to remove asbestos, old ticket booths and exterior walkways. Though the building is structurally sound, the interior is decrepit. Last year, trash littered the aisles between torn, cushioned stadium seats once considered luxurious. A synthetic football field lay in a crumpled, dirty heap.
Some local groups have lobbied to save the dome, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation joined them in a failed campaign to garner support for the ballot measure. A few say they will continue.