De­spite ‘no’ vote, some hold out hope of sav­ing Astrodome

The Washington Times Daily - - Business - BY RAMIT PLUSH­NICK-MASTI

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.

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