County Judge Foresees New Use for Astrodome: Giant Enclosed Space, Shielded from Weather

Noting that negotiations intended to turn the Harris County Domed Stadium into a convention-center hotel have “not progressed in recent months,” County Judge Ed Emmett suggests an entirely new idea for reusing the shuttered structure: How about turning the Astrodome into . . . a giant indoor, air-conditioned space where people could hold . . . events?

Emmett writes in a Chronicle blog:

. . . as we saw only too clearly last weekend, we in Harris County are extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of our weather. The International Festival suffered a pretty serious setback with the torrential rainfall we had Saturday. Having the Dome available for such eventualities seems to me a potential solution worth investigating.

Some of the major festival organizers have responded eagerly to the idea in informal discussions, so I’m now soliciting input from other organizers, civic groups, preservationists and the public at large.

At the same time, other groups are discussing museums, planetariums, studios and all sorts of public venues, but having the Dome as a multipurpose facility for everyone to enjoy would be tremendous. Of course, I imagine the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo would find it a useful venue too.

Photo: Jeff Balke

23 Comment

  • Great idea! Too bad no one had a brainstorm about making Wilshire Village a community to house 144 households – that might have saved the place!

  • Turn it into a 10 story parking garage or tear it down.

  • Judge Emmett, great guy, but the IFestival needs to be outdoors amid the parks, building and plazas of the city, as a way to enhance people’s appreciation of the city. Competing performance stages inside the ‘Dome all at once? Oh my aching ears!

    But we should probably keep the Astrodome around in case New Orleans needs it again.

  • I think they should turn it into a hydroponic garden and grow millions of tomatoes…or maybe fill it with water and teach people to scuba dive.
    Tearing it down is way too logical.

  • One of the reasons for the international festival to be where it is at is to bring some life downtown. The CBD closes down every weekend and festivals and the addition of some residential in some of the buildings is slowly starting to make downtown a little more active.

    This great idea that the Judge came up with is nothing new – it was the purpose the place was built for in the first place. But it has become dated and is no longer desirable. All of the other events that are so eager should be routed to the rest of the Relianct complex or to GRB.

  • I agree with keeping the IF downtown. The year they did it out at Reliant felt out of place.

    The IF is great in downtown and brings lots of life there. I’m sure the Houston Pavilion would love having that many people nearby on the weekend so some may stop by shop there.

  • Maybe it’s just me, but I have no sentimental feelings for the Astrodome. Do any of you? Would you mind seeing it torn down? And if so, why?

    I remember my dad taking me there when it first opened and I remember it being a big deal to him. Maybe it’s all those rodeos I had to suffer through there.

  • EMME,

    I ask myself the same question, but since I grew up in south Louisiana I reference it to the Superdome in New Orleans.

    It might not be apple and apples comparison since the Superdome has been able to morph over time to keep up with the NFL demands on the old facility. The Astrodome became inadequate for football and baseball by the NFL and MLB’s standards on top of its age.

    But it also begs the question: “Is it a historic building?” “Is is worth saving?”

    To some, the dome is just as important as say the River Oaks Theatre or Heights bungalows are to others. Of course the dome does take some tax payer money which may affect people’s view.

    I’ve been in the facility as a child (visting AstroWorld and went to an Astros game with family) back in the 80s. It was impressive, but it didn’t seem it was kept up as much as the Superdome was while it was in use.

    My best plan for saving it still falls back on making it a massive parking garage. At least the outside would be saved.

  • Three words: Giant Robot Wars

  • We could do what Montreal did with the velodrome after the Olympics were over:

    (It’s actually very cool, I’ve been.)

  • Worlds largest botanical gardens?

    It’ll be hard to visit when other large activities are going on in the area though. But they could remove the paint on the roof so the sunlight comes through once again.

  • There was a Chronicle article a while back that estimated the cost of demolition at $30 million, as compared to something like $600,000 per year just to keep it in mothballs. I ran it through an NPV analysis, and it actually was not cost effective to tear it down. It’s better fiscal policy to keep it, even if we never use it for any purpose ever again.
    I’m not much of a sentimentalist, but this is the kind of historical preservation I can get behind. Anything to save a buck.

  • Interesting concept. It could become like the Colliseum in Rome, a giant ruin in the midst of a city. At some point it will be worth re-using or demolishing….no need to be in a great hurry.

  • I like the botanical and hydroponic gardens ideas.

    I think maybe it isn’t on my list of historical buildings because a. it’s a sports stadium, it’s a commercial building, and c. IMO it is ugly.

    However, I support those of you who think otherwise to fight for it if you wanna.

  • Does that mean if I think the Wilshire Village and River Oaks Theatre are ugly would be a valid reason to tear it down? LOL

  • Oh, please. The first indoor professional baseball stadium? The Eighth Wonder of the World? The reason Astroturf was invented? The largest symbol of Houston’s space-age, can-do enthusiasm of the 60s? No, it’s not historic! Tear it down!

    And from the everyday fan’s point of view, it was not outdated as a MLB venue, at least. Cheap, easy, safe, close parking. Reasonable ticket prices. Decent sight lines. Comfortable, padded seats. Good climate control. Way more pitcher friendly. Count me among the Astros fans who don’t consider the move downtown to be an upgrade.

  • Marmer,

    The outdated comment was referencing most pro leagues needed a certain number of luxury boxes and higher end seating along with the updated media capabilities. The Superdome went through several massive renovations to add what the pro leagues wanted and is one reason the Saints haven’t left NO yet. The Astrodome has some limitations on the renovations that it could receive. If you look at old domes in the US, the Superdome and Astrodome are the last ones standing with their age. And the Superdome is still in use. The Kingdome (built between Astrodome and Superdome) has been demolished. Texas Stadium (almost a dome) is going to meet it’s maker soon unless it gets another use. I have to check on Metrodome, Silverdome, and Hoosier Dome ages, but I think they are much younger.

    Ballparks have been shrinking and are becoming more intimate venues (if you call 40k people intimate). The Astrodome is pretty much like the aging Dodger Stadium in LA in layout.

    I agree the Astrodome was a great venue for baseball because of the low ticket price. With that many seats, the price can be low for a lot of them.

  • “But it has become dated and is no longer desirable.”

    I have become dated and am no longer desireable. Your point, again, is?

  • It would make a good FEMA camp.

  • Keep the Dome. Joel Osteen is gonna need it when Lakewood outgrows the Compaq Center.

  • To reference this to another thread from a few days ago if you don’t consider the Astrodome to be historic then the Freeland Historic District certainly isn’t. The Astrodome is architecturally significant at an international level and as you said yourself a few days ago Emme, “I don’t think historic designation requires beauty, if that were the case, many many of the world’s historic places would be flattened today”. We need to be sure that when applying the term historic we are truly discussing the building or neighborhood’s value as a piece of history rather than just it’s age. Of course that doesn’t help solve the problem of what to do with the place.

  • For God’s sake, just keep the Astrodome — I consider it to be one of Houston’s landmarks. Unfortunately, Houston doesn’t have too many distinctive landmarks (such as St. Louis’s arch or New York City’s Empire and Chrysler skyscrapers). Just find a good use for it.

  • I had thought there was a company looking into making it a film studio.