How To Demolish the Astrodome: No Dynamite, Please

HOW TO DEMOLISH THE ASTRODOME: NO DYNAMITE, PLEASE “. . . the Dome is also a mess right now, full of deadly asbestos, molds, a whole geological stratum’s worth of dust and who knows what else. But that nasty stew, ironically, may be its ultimate salvation. Although they blew up Texas Stadium for about $7 million, the figure for leveling the Dome is said to be in excess of $100 million . . . Why so much? Even after the asbestos is removed, the tremors caused by imploding it could damage Reliant Stadium, so a ‘piece by piece dismantling’ will be required, explains Narendra Gosain, a senior principal with Walter P. Moore, the firm originally responsible for the Dome’s structural design. Walter P. Moore also consulted when San Antonio took apart the Hemisfair Arena, which Gosain calls a ‘mini-Astrodome.’ Explosives couldn’t be used on that venue, either, because of how close it stood to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. ‘The frame was the same, just much smaller,’ Gosain said, ‘and it required a very slow, painstaking process.’” [Houston Chronicle, via Off the Kuff; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Candace Garcia

36 Comment

  • ** Although they blew up Texas Stadium for about $7 million **

    As reported here and on the Dallas Morning News before it paywalled the story, the demolition of Texas Stadium actually ran about $6 million. The Chron has difficulty getting facts right a lot of the time, but it’s even more problematic when they get behind some boondoggle (like saving the Astrodome).

    The fact is, we don’t have a hard estimate on what it will take to demolish the Astrodome — just some numbers advanced by people who want to make a rehab project look palatable. Put out some bids and let’s see how much it will cost. It’s costing us millions per year just sitting there.

  • The Astrodome was built as a “real” building and that’s why it’ll cost more to take it down. The reason it was so cheap to knock down Texas Stadium was that it was nothing but a structural skeleton. Ugly and unfinished-looking the day it was built and basically the same the day it was imploded, except for mutliple tacky add-ons.

  • Tear this thing down now. Wasting more money having it sit there, and it’s an eyesore. Let’s be honest. Yeah, I grew up here, and have fond memories. I have fond memories swimming at the Shamrock Hilton, attending wedddings, etc there as well. But, it was torn down simply for re-development; the Astrodome NEEDS to be torn down. I’ll miss both, but those who say keep the Astrodome up in it’s current form, simply due to nostalgia, aren’t practical thinkers.

  • I believe there is the small fact we will continue to pay millions on it even if it is destroyed due to bonds that do not go away merely because the structure is gone. There have been multiple proposals for the building, yet none have been seriously considered by the county – due to politics.

  • $100 Mil to demo the Astrodome?? No way, I doubt it would be more than $50 Mil. It is very rare for a Demolition Project to even come close to $50 Mil. Asbestos or no Asbestos. Even if you want to renovate the dome you would have to abate the asbestos. The dome is also a steel structure which in today’s market is a valuable commodity and would offset some of the cost to demolish the building. Rehab of the Dome is a pipe dream, it will never happen. Way too costly. Texas stadium had a good amount of asbestos that had to be abated prior to demolition, and was bid on a fast track schedule which jacked the cost up significantly. Plus it was a concrete structure except for the roof. Concrete adds no value to a project.

  • It’s time to face the facts that the building really has no further purpose and that all of the off the wall ideas to “save the Astrodome” can only result in utter failure. Tear it down and recycle the guts.

  • i was wondering what happened to the idea of turning it into a movie studio—which i am still for—and came across this interesting article. not sure if swamplot has already posted it.

  • Nothing but a money grab! Have the taxpayers pay for it! Frackem all

  • The asbestos does not have to be removed. I’ve been in there with a prominent structural engineer who says it’s in the belly of the building and can be sealed off. Far safer and less expensive. The engineer had dealt with a similar problem in another sports venue. The building is not in the bad shape some people make it out to be. When inside the Dome a little over a year ago, I didn’t crawl all over the entire place but frankly, I was surprised at how good it DID look after all these years. It has fabulous, sound structure – proof is that it withstood a major hurricane – and can become virtually anything as long as it is compatible with the needs of the two other major Reliant Park tenants, the Rodeo and the Texans. It doesn’t have to just sit there and waste our tax dollars, but unfortunately taxpayers are letting that happen by not pressuring the county to take immediate steps towards making it useful. Instead of doing nothing while waiting on what it will be in its grand “next life” they should be getting it up to code, bit by bit, step by step so that it can be used, or at least parts of it be used – like maybe just the field – to start bringing in revenue. Before the doors closed permanently, a family paid around $18,000 to rent the field for a bar mitzvah. Don’t know how much director/producer John Lee Hancock paid to lease it for his movie Friday Night Lights (Sport & Convention Corp. wouldn’t tell me) but it wasn’t chickenfeed. If the county had been doing stuff like this all along the building would still be inhabitable and probably be at least paying for itself. It certainly would be a lot more attractive to potential investors. Taxpayers need to be pro-active and tell their commissioners to start fixing it up NOW and not wait another month or six months (at $300,000-400,000 a month) or a year! They should put that money to work and not down the drain. Taxpayers should show up at Commissioners Court and insist that the process to get the building operational, even in some small way,should start NOW.

  • Cynthia makes some valid points but I think it will never happen. I wouldn’t agree with her engineer friend on the asbestos issue. It would depend on what would the building be used for. I’m sure there is asbestos on pipe insulation, duct insulation, spray on insulation, and acoustic ceiling tile. But hey why question a prominent engineer. The engineer quoted in the article here may be prominent but doesn’t have a clue about demolishing a structure. Three River Stadium in Pittsburgh was 80′ away from the new stadium when imploded and no damage was done. The dome is approximately 150’or more away from the new stadium. Imploding a building or structure such as a dome does not cause tremors severe enough to damage a building that far away. In fact you will more likely experience greater movement in the ground from a truck or bus driving down a city street. You would concern yourself more from the rush of air caused by the structure falling and that can be minimized greatly. This building is held dearly by most here in Houston but at some point simple economics will need to come in to play. This building will continue to be a drain on the County the longer it sits.

  • Did I miss the point where it was decided to demo the Astrodome? I thought there were a dozen or so renovation plans being thrown around.

  • LOL! Cynthia – you read this blog too! Ha! – I just posted a link to your article. Thanks for the insight to what’s going on with the Astrodome.

  • Unused structures on farms are relenquished to housing hay bales and that’s just about all the Astrodome is good for these days. Tear it down. I still miss the old Colt .45 stadium.

  • @JJ, poster 10:
    I suspect, too, that implosion won’t damage any other structure; Demo companies are experts.
    It’s “the rush of air” sending all kinds of dust, as well as asbestos, that frightens.
    Lots of folks complained of sudden and sustained allergic symptoms during the widening of I-10. This concern is nothing to sneeze at – I mean disregard.

  • The engineer I referred to was in the Dome with me as a professional, not a friend, who does this for a living – the engineer who was responsible for converting the Compaq Center into Lakewood Church (as well as the conversion of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts). Asbestos issues there, too. We were not allowed access to the whole Astrodome so yes, there probably are other asbestos problems than those far below. Same as in Compaq Center and they were overcome. I spent 18 months, as V.P. of the company working to convert it to a movie studio, learning everything I could about the Dome. (Left that company over a year ago.) What I learned mostly is that this is a game of politics. It defies logic that taxpayers aren’t pressuring their commissioners to fix the Dome just enough NOW so that it can bring in a little revenue to pay its bills NOW not wasting money that could be keeping constables in our neighborhoods, teachers in our schools, and keep our health services operating. This is the fiduciary responsibility of our commissioners. Mine prefers to spend my money building soap box derby tracks. In a robust economy, that’d be great. But in a time when we’re talking about closing schools and health clinics he should be rallying experts to hit the ground running and fix one of the county’s biggest drains so at the very least it is self-sufficient until a great white knight rides in with a grand master plan that solves the problem for them. The commissioners should be demanding – demanding – results from the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation whose responsibility it is to manage the Dome. The money for its repairs and operation is in their budget and they are the ones who are supposed to make recommendations and upkeep the building.

  • Find the guys who imploded the Towers on 911. They’ll do a good demolition job.

  • Cynthia, I read your article in Culturemap. I think you are right in your assesment of our County Commissioners. You talk about fixing the Dome just enough to be able to generate revenue and become self supporting. The figures you present for Demolition of the Dome are extremely high and unreasonable. $128 million dollars is crazy. I would like to know where that figure was generated. I know in my first post I said $50 million but I was being facetious. If repairing the Dome just enough to become habitable would cost taxpayers $30 million, I can tell you that Demolishing the Dome would realistically be half that figure or less. I’m not sitting here saying it should be torn down but we should look at it realistically and objectivly. I enjoyed your article and found it informative.

  • The demolition figures are from the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, not from me. I have been told they are inflated but I am no expert on this nor pretend or want to be. What I do know, is that this is a perfectly viable building with unbelieveable potential and world-wide historical significance that has been allowed to deteriorate at taxpayer expense. The whole sports world was focused on the Final Four last weekend and the reports of the “sad,” “neglected” Astrodome sent across the nation should have made the Commissioners turn red from embarrassment. At the very least they could have spruced up the exterior to present a proud face of Houston to the rest of the world. The buck stops with the commissioners as they are the ones to whom the Sports Corp. report to. Commissioners shouldn’t pass the buck back to taxpayers for “ideas.” There have been plenty of good ideas presented and the building is quite capable of multi-tasking. I suggest they treat the building as if it is on fire – – because it is burning up tax dollars that need to go to teachers, health services, etc. A “burning” asset should be a priority – an emergency – but so far it is not. Why? That’s a question for each taxpayer to ask their representative commissioner. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be having this conversation three years after the doors slammed shut and ten years after the last tenant left.

  • The estimate to tear down the old Harris County Jail in downtown, I’m told, is around $10,000,000. We are talking about a 14 story SOLID concrete building which is just under 1 million sq. ft in size and is located just a few feet from the Criminal justice center. Remember, concrete and steel are both recyclable, which will substantially reduce the cost of tearing down a building like the Astrodome.

  • I loved the dome. I went to many Astro games, Oilers, UH, rodeo, high school football…and it should be torn down. Turn it into a park with a monument to the dome that once was. There is nothing they can do that will turn it into a destination that people would what to go to. that area of town is marginal, is not a destination, and the only reason to go there is to see the Texans lose a close game.

  • Why are people focusing on the disputed costs of demolition when the issue should be why the commissioners have not maintained one of our greatest county assets so that it could pay for itself? There is no move to demolish the building, so why dwell on that? Move forward and discuss how the Astrodome can be utilized in its most basic, bare-bones state – using just the field or using just one or two concourses.

  • Cynthia and her previous employer represent a “BIG” part of the problem.

    The company she worked for had no intention of moving any plans forward to truly remodel the dome. They were paid many times over to produce pretty much the same plan at the cost of millions of tax payer dollars. The cost to pay them for developing plans would come close to the true cost of demolition. The demolition numbers being thrown out by the sports authority are extremely bogus.

    Also, an engineer is NOT the best source for demolition cost. The preeminent demolition experts in the world are not engineers. All those large scale demolitions you see on TV are done by companies that have built extensive experience with little engineering background. They often have an engineer on staff to assist in deciding how to take a building down, but outside of that, the process of demolition (especially implosion) is more of an art form than science.

    Controlled Demolition is just one of several companies that are artists in demolition. Perhaps if they or any other company with actual demolition experience were consulted and asked for bids, we would know the true cost versus some engineer’s estimate.

  • Using the field or just a few concourses will never keep the Dome sustainable. Spending money on keeping the Dome running will only suck revenue away from the Stadium and other venues at Reliant Park. Maybe there should be a move to demolish the Dome. The neglect by the County may just be too far gone. In this economy why throw money into upgrading a building as large and as expensive as the Dome would be to maintain? To keep the field useful? If private enterprise has not been able to come up with a viable use, why trust the County to spend our tax money on it? Once the new stadium was built the Dome was doomed. It seems to me Cynthia has one opinion and that is to save the Dome. I would agree with her but NOT with my hard earned money. Bring in private investment and don’t spend another penny of the taxpayers money. Let the Commissioners spend two or three more years throwing out useless ideas and that money wasted would most likely pay for the demolition cost.

  • To kjb434: You have me confused with someone else. I was never employed by the company you referred to. I was a partner in a private start-up that focused on the movie studio aspect and was never paid anything. The Harris County Sports & Convention Corp had the drawings and plans done that I believe you may be referring to. They are the only ones, along with the County Commission, in a position to spend taxpayer dollars on anything towards the Astrodome. Dome operation etc comes out of their budget and their board of directors makes those kinds of decisions. No, I was never in the Dome with an engineer for the purpose of discussing its demolition. That has never been my interest.So anything the engineer said to me was only regarding its adaptive re-use.

  • “Why are people focusing on the disputed costs of demolition when the issue should be why the commissioners have not maintained one of our greatest county assets so that it could pay for itself?” That is a great questions, Cynthia. Personally, I am astonished that the county would allow the astrodome to waste away. Shame on our elected officials! I will remember this come election time.

  • When Reliant Stadium was built, the dome should have been demolished just as has happened all around the U.S. when the facilities are replaced.

  • What’s most important is what CAN be done NOW. No one really knows because the only ones with that ability to find this out are the authorities with the keys to the building – the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. Taxpayers need to be pro-active in regard to the Dome’s current state of money-drain and make their opinions known to their Commissioners – write and call.

  • Cynthia, I will. Thanks for bringing my attention to this. For me, it isn’t so much an issue of “preservation” as it is yet another step in the direction of making Houston a liveable city. If the ‘dome can be converted into some income generating purpose (movie studio, great idea!) for less than it would cost to demo it, why wouldn’t we? The elementary school in my neighborhood is facing the loss of the school nurse and librarian because of the budget shortfall. We need to start getting creative about revenue sources, especially if we are going to keep our horribly deficient property tax system in place.

  • kjb-

    You, pal, owe Cynthia Neeley an apology, now!

    Everyone see posts #22 and #24 above.

    kjb, your kneejerk attacks are loathsome.

  • Udunnon,

    How is it kneejerk?

    The movement by Judge Emmit to go towards demolition versus keep trying to prop up failed re-use proposals is mostly due to the ties of the re-use proposals groups ties to Commissioner Eversole. The leaders of these groups are tied with the ongoing corruption case. It’s amazing how no news outlet is making this connection.

    There is nothing kneejerk about what I said. What’s kneejerk is going after me for bringing up and supporting valid points.

  • The main problems with the astrodome are as follows

    1. No one wanted to use the dome as a multi-purpose venue when it was USABLE! Therefore, why would anyone want to use it if it became usable again? Seriously, who wants to go into a dingy, dusty, disgusting bathroom facility, when a much nicer building is right next door that basically serves the same purpose? Ever since Reliant Stadium was built no one wanted to hold anything in the dome.

    2. I think the demolition costs are grossly overinflated. A Houston Press article a few years back interviewed a demolition expert and he said it could be done on the cheap side of around 25 million. Basically the roof compresses to a ring in the center, you blow that ring out and the roof will fall down, then take the walls down with a wrecking ball. Personally I think the right company could do it all with explosives and the only thing Reliant Stadium would lose would be a few windows.

    3. No one who has ideas to redo the dome into something else realizes the tremendous cost of renovation of a building of that scale, not to mention that no sports stadium has been renovated to serves some other purpose that didn’t retain an arena configuration of some sort. No bank in these economic times is going to finance coo coo movie studio and hotel ideas when the same type of facility could be built from the ground up for FAR less! A movie studio is just a big warehouse. Why buy a large domed building that will require an EXPENSIVE gutting of the inside, when you could just buy land and build the same thing for a lot less?

    The only chance I ever thought the dome had was if we had gotten the 2012 Olympics and it could be remodeled. When that didn’t happen, it’s clock has been ticking albeit slowly.

  • kjb-

    Just another example of your inability to
    do anything but post. Just post.

    READ, as I said (to anyone) posts #22 and #24
    and you will recall that you issued a false accusation about Ms Neely. READ,kjb.

    I quote: (from post #22 by kjb):

    “Cynthia and her previous employer represent
    a BIG part of the problem.”

    ONE PROBLEM, kjb!

    Cynthia NEVER worked there. How do I know, and in particular, how do you NOT?

    I quote: (from post #24 right below yours’)

    Cynthia: “To KJB: You have me confused with someone else. I was NEVER EMPLOYED (emphasis added) by the company you referred to.”

    You accused her of working for a firm she never worked for. In fact, by NAME you specifically called HER a big part of “the problem” because of your allegation that she worked for a firm with which you obviously disagree.

    Get it, yet? You owe Ms. Neely an apology
    for your insulting, incorrect assertion that she EVEN WORKED there. Pretty darn rude, pal.

    But you post; you don’t read. (and now YOU
    of all people post that you are “attacked”).

    Some of us notice the pattern.

  • The fact any of you take this so darn personally is rather amusing, it’s the internet, here no one gets an apology. Take a step back, and go outside..


    MC probably has the best rundown of reality on the Astrodome.

  • The justification for not demolishing the Astrodome is absolutely financial. We may not agree on the precise demolition costs, however what we do know from a previous Chronicle article is that upkeep in mothballs is $600k per year. Cynthia says it’s less, but let’s go with $600k. The Harris County Sports Authority has shitty books and shittier credit. It would borrow money to take down the stadium and would likely refinance the debt for a half-century, which in finance is basically FOREVER…mathematically speaking.
    The present value of a perpetuity at -$600k per year and an extremely conservative discount rate at 5% (accounting for the opportunity cost of public funds on top of the cost of capital) is worth -$12 million.
    This is extremely generous to the demolition contractors, I think, but unless their bid price comes in under $12 million, the demolition proposal is not worthy of consideration.

  • Won’t it be great when, one day in the future, the steel, aluminum and glass is valuable enough that contractors bid competitively for the job of demo-ing a structure?
    Guess the US will really be ‘third-world’ then.