Comment of the Day: A Dome’s Ransom

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A DOME’S RANSOM “The problem isn’t that anti-Domers only think about money, it’s that pro-Domers won’t consider it at all. Would you ever tell your mechanic ‘I love my car so much, there’s no amount of money I wouldn’t spend to keep it forever’? No, because that’s an invitation to get swindled — the mechanic knows he can do all sorts of unnecessary work that the actual value of the car doesn’t justify. You’ll end up paying more, which will make it less likely that you’ll actually be able to afford to keep that car forever. Same thing with the Dome; a lot of people are shouting ‘we’ll keep the Dome at any cost!’ What do you know, along comes a very expensive, not very practical plan for a convention center no one needs. How long will that last before the next person comes along and says the convention center is too old, and we have to spend more money or tear it down? If you really want to save the Dome, grow a backbone and say that there are limits to how much Houston taxpayers should pour into it; that’s when you’ll get a plan that benefits the community enough to be sustainable. Otherwise you are just keeping the hostage alive until the next payment is due, and that can’t go on forever.” [Alec, commenting on It’s Like a Billboard. On Wheels. For the Astrodome.] Illustration: Lulu

21 Comment

  • Where’s your projections and figures for these future costs? You rant about costs yet provide no numbers. How are we supposed to take you seriously?

  • There could be a petition signed by two million Harris county tax payers and they still wouldn’t listen. How are we supposed to grow this “backbone” when we don’t even have a voice?

  • You’ve convinced me. I won’t keep the Dome at any cost. I will keep it for $8 a year, however.

  • I’ve addressed this political dynamic on my blog several times.

    The relatively small interest groups that benefit from such urban boondoggles as a renovated Astrodome have a vested interest in preventing citizens from ever examining the threshold issue economic issues accurately.

    The primary economic benefit of such public projects is highly concentrated in a few interest groups, such as representatives of minority communities who tout the political accomplishment of shiny toy rail lines while ignoring their constituents need for more effective mass transit; environmental groups striving for political influence; engineering and construction-related firms that profit from the huge expenditure of public funds; and real-estate developers who profit from the value enhancement provided to their property from the public expenditures.

    As USC economist Peter Gordon has wryly-noted: “It adds up to a winning political coalition.”

    Unfortunately, once such coalitions are successful in establishing a governmental policy subsidizing such boondoggles, it is virtually impossible to end the subsidy of the boondoggle and re-deploy the resources for more beneficial projects.

    How do these interest groups get away with this? The costs of such boondoggles are widely dispersed among the local population of an area such as Houston, so the many who stand to lose will lose only a relative little while the few who stand to gain will gain a lot. As a result, these small interest groups recognize that it is usually not worth the relatively small cost per taxpayer for most citizens to spend any substantial amount of time or money lobbying or simply taking the time to vote against such boondoggles.

    But would citizens react differently if their political leaders advised them honestly that their failure to oppose a seemingly popular urban boondoggle might prevent the funding of much more beneficial public projects, such as better flood control?

    No one knows for sure. But I’d sure like to see local political leaders engage in some truth-in-advertising before the financing of such boondoggles is placed before the voters.

    We all might just be surprised.

  • Despite the trolls, you’re spot on Alec; the “Dome-scapade” smells of crony captialism at it’s finest. Just to clarify, I’m for preserving the Dome, and Houston landmarks, but feel just as apathetic as most Houstonians.

  • Sigh*. You just don’t get it and obviously never will, this isn’t about money, it’s about wanting to preserve an icon. I’m aware of finances and basic economics, no need for freshman Econ101, we who support the dome concept realize this may not be a brilliant money making move, I mean the Empire State Building didn’t make money for years, the only profit was from the observation deck. It’s obvious the anti dome crowd so prevalent and boisterous on Swamplot isn’t going to be swayed, but that really is moot, all the polls show strong support for saving the dome so argue away.

  • I liked the Eiffel Tower Astrodome Idea.

  • I can’t wait for the Save The Dome Truck campaign. After the Save The Dome Truck completed its mission, those heartless folks wanted to get rid of it. But the truck encapsulates the important architectural styles of the time and who can forget the important sense of community as Harris County unified around the truck. Save The Dome Truck!

  • Stripper indoor paint ball or it has to go. It’s such an embarrassment. It’s like proudly displaying a faded and tattered participation ribbon, but with rats, asbestos, mold, and crumbling walls.

  • How do you reconcile the Houston Proud thing with the nastiness toward the iconic Astrodome, Houston’s most famous building. It seems an oxymoron to be Houston Proud and be giddy about the tearing down of the Astrodome.

  • Ah, because the dome is as common as a mass produced car. If the car in question happened to be the only remaining one in the world that is known throughout the world… then yes, I’d venture to say you’d agree to spend anything on said car.

  • Oil storage terminal or bust. Sell it to Kinder Morgan and fill that sucker up with sweet sweet crude.

  • I think it would be worth saving the dome at any cost just so that when someone says Houston has no history or soul we have something to point to as we say “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    Alec is right about one thing tho, I won’t consider money at all on this issue. This time it isn’t about money, it’s about losing a valuable piece of our heritage that we can’t afford losing because we don’t have much else left to lose.

    I wouldn’t consider money at all to save the life of someone I love. I love Houston. I love the Astrodome. Of course, money doesn’t enter into the equation. Plus – get real, the amount of money it will take to keep the dome standing isn’t going to make Houston any less desirable to live in. Residents will still be able to afford cheeseburgers.

  • The auto mechanic analogy is missing one important point. We also have to imagine that dozens of people came up with ideas with different costs for fixing your car, and that the mechanic rejected all of them, and only offered you the choice between one very expensive option that would add windows, bells and whistles, or immediately putting your car through the crusher.

  • Tom Kirkendall, exemplifying the suburban/talk radio mentality that every dime spent for something beyond the person’s front lawn is a “boondoggle.”

    The funny thing is that these people take summer vacations to places like Paris and think, “Wow, what an amazing city!” and then go home and brag to their friends at work and church that they went to Paris. Not realizing that the existence of a place like Paris is made possible by *civic-mindedness* – willingness to spend money on collective enterprises such as preservation of landmarks and other things in the public realm, not just scowling at everything outside your precious private property.

  • Brian,

    As common as a mass produced car? Show me one other dome with a roof like that. Most of the others just had fabric roofs.

    Sure is a lot of interest from media outlets across the country for something that’s as “common as a mass produced car.”

  • Mike, come on, haven’t you ever experienced the tourist mecca that is Sugarland? Why go all the way to Paris when we’ve got Jersey Village?

  • I actually do love my car about that much. And while I might not tell the mechanic that he has a blank check, eventually you build up trust over time with a mechanic and you get a sense, especially if you know cars and parts, if you are being cheated or treated fairly. But spending more than a car is “worth” to keep a car you want to keep? I’d do that all day long. Because it’s worth it to me.

  • Idaho: People make financial decisions in saving loved one’s lives all the time. How much debt would you be willing to rack up to save a 105 year old great-grandparent? You love them, but would you give up your kid’s college fund for an extra year with them?

    With regards to the Astrodome (fortunately it isn’t a human life), it simply isn’t worth the opportunity costs where that money might be better invested. You MUST take emotion out of the equation and make a business decision in the best interests of ALL taxpayers. An asset, by definition, is valued at the NPV of it’s future benefit. There is no emotion or desire built into this calculation.

  • It’s amusing that people jump on the anti-convention center opinion as being against preservation and Houston’s soul. Turning the Dome into an exhibit hall with a jumbotron has exactly as much soul as that sounds — none.

    The Eiffel Tower was not a castle in the sky. It was purpose-built as a monument. If you want to treat the Dome as a Houston monument, then some aesthetic and an element of class would help that. For me, that was the park plan. A $200m expansion for the Reliant Park area that does little else for the community gets judged on its own merits, which are few.

  • SP’s absolutist premise that an invitation to swindle will result in a swindle is wrong. There are honest mechanics who, even with a blank check, would not spend it. There are mechanics with ethics. Their cynicism is quite obvious. SP is one of the most outspoken cyber voices for pro-development in Houston and so naturally, it sees the Dome’s destruction as a fiscally good thing. I wonder if they would feel the same, had they been around when it was built and it was then seen as “progressive” and pro-development. Promoted as, among other things, “The eighth wonder of the world.” SP’s rhetoric is reflection of their own commercial “special interest” in their time, but certainly they have no grasp on the Dome’s economic and political history since they seem oblivious to the fact that it was a bond vote which built it. Moreover, they are blazingly ignorant that, economically, there is no calculus available to determine the cost of the lost of a region’s cultural history. Those values and measurements are found in other social sciences, but not in economics. Saving tax dollars is not a measurement comparable to cultural destruction. They have nothing is common, yet the latter is permanent and will forever scar the face and reputation of Houston.