Judge Emmett on the New Plan To Rein In the New Astrodome Plan

JUDGE EMMETT ON THE NEW PLAN TO REIN IN THE NEW ASTRODOME PLAN Proposed Astrodome Parking Garage PlansHere’s the statement judge Ed Emmett’s office just released to FOX26 in response to this afternoon’s news of District 15 senator John Whitmire’s about-to-be-filed bill to require a Harris County voter okay on that plan to turn the Astrodome’s bottom into a parking garage: “It’s frustrating that while the Astrodome stood vacant for more than 15 years, very few people stepped forward to offer real solutions. But now that we on Commissioners Court have finally arrived at a way to preserve the Dome as a revenue-generating asset for the people of Harris County, Sen. Whitmire’s legislation risks derailing that solution. The Astrodome is a paid-for asset that needs to be used for the benefit of the overall NRG Park complex. Creating more than 8 acres of covered usable space along with 1,400 indoor parking spaces will generate revenue that will allow the county to maintain NRG Stadium and the rest of the complex.” The bill could potentially shut down the parking garage plan, if county-wide support can’t be mustered to support the project; demolition plans, on the other hand, are now subject to review by the Texas Historical Commission, as of late last month’s State Antiquities Landmark designation. [FOX26; previously on Swamplot] Astrodome parking plan schematic: Harris County Engineering Department

23 Comment

  • Very happy that Senator Whitmire is filing a bill to put this $105M boondoggle to a vote of the people. I sent him and my own state senator an email of support. County Judge Emmett just doesn’t get that the will of the people was to TEAR IT DOWN when we said “no” to refurbishment money. Yes, we weren’t explicit – but then we didn’t get to draft the ballot language, did we?
    If the $105M cash wagon gets put to a vote, let’s make it a multiple choice ballot to make it CLEAR:
    A. Yes, let’s spend $105M for the Ed Emmett parking plan.
    B. No money for the parking. And, let the Dome sit empty and alone.
    C. No money for parking – but tear it down within 1 year of this vote whatever the cost.
    Whichever choice gets the most votes, wins. Simple, effective, and gets the message through to some very thick heads down at the County Administration building.

  • Recall Whitmire already….

  • “The Astrodome is a paid-for asset that needs to be used for the benefit of the overall NRG Park complex. Creating more than 8 acres of covered usable space along with 1,400 indoor parking spaces will generate revenue that will allow the county to maintain NRG Stadium and the rest of the complex.””

    Or better yet, let the revenue from the Astrodome be dedicated to maintaining and operating new venues at the Astrodome itself. NRG should be able to pay for itself …. after when NRG stadium was proposed all the good judges decided it was a viable financial investment in itself. Are they saying that they lied now?

  • Using the dome for parking is stupid and hardly inventive–lipstick on a pig. If NRG needs more parking, build a parking lot. If we need more convention space, build more convention space. DO NOT try to use a sports stadium for something it’s not. Strip it to its skeleton–light it up. Let the light through for green space (think of the value brought by Discovery Green). That space could be spectacular day and night and also serve as a memorial for bygone days. Focus on making NRG better–it’s getting outdated. This is an opportunity to make NRG look better but sadly we are getting a parking lot instead.

  • Finally a politician with the balls , clout & common sense to stop this fiasco!!! Harris County officials are deceptive as usual. Ed Emmetts plan will NOT bring any substantial business to justify this colossal WASTE of taxpayers money. He & his cabal of political prostitutes are power obsessed special interest WHORES. Harris County is defying , as usual , the taxpayers MAJORITY vote – 2 to 3 years ago – to tear the white elephant down. There is no valid, legit reason to keep the Astrodome. The voters need to rise up & let Harris County obey us or face a big backlash. It’s our money & votes that count!!!

  • Personally this plan is not a bad one. The idiots who want to tear it down would have wanted to tear down the Eiffel Tower as an eyesore or bulldoze the Alamo for some “green space”. Lets waste more time and taxpayer money on an election that will certainly end up with lawsuits and historical preservation attorneys getting involved. This plan will lead to more income than what is currently being generated. I will bet an entire years salary all the naysayers have very little business expertise and will be grumbling about the costs to tear it it down as well.

  • @ Max Max: Your analogy is flawed. If there was a newer better Eiffel Tower built NEXT to the current one – and the current one was mothballed/closed to the public, then your analogy would work.
    But, it doesn’t. Having actually been inside the Astrodome for an HLSR concert back in the 80s, it is time to put the old gal out of her misery.

  • If you oppose Emmett’s plan, fine but beyond screaming NO what’s your plan?

    Demolition costs have ranged from $30M-$75M. ALL of that will come out of property tax dollars.

    Do nothing? It costs around $2M/year now for maintenance, insurance and utilities – all out of property tax dollars. How long do you propose to do that? Then what? It’s been vacant for 15 years now!

    The skeleton plan is intriguing, but even if technically feasible it would cost $180M. Without added parking, it would need 5X the amount of public funding as Emmett’s plan (not to mention passing Historical Commission muster).

    Ed Emmett is one of the few Republicans in Harris County with a brain. He must just seethe at the inanity in Austin that comes at him at every turn. How I wish he’d run for Lt. Gov. and be able to spank Whitmire and Bettancourt in public.

  • Comparing the Astrodome to the Eiffel Tower is…kind of sad really.

    Also: “The Astrodome is a paid-for asset ” is such a sunk cost fallacy. Real estate of that size is NEVER “paid for”. There are always continuing costs for maintaining it, and opportunity costs for refusing to sell it.

  • Emmett is nothing short of a crook. Why on earth would we spend $105 million to make the Astrodome into a parking lot. Tear it down already!!

  • Why should the State of Texas get involved in Harris County’s affairs? I wrote my senator, Whitmire, asking him not to submit his proposed legislation to delay the county’s plan. I also wrote the senator whose district includes the Astrodome, Miles, expressing my support for the county plan and asked him to convince Whitmire to stay out of the matter.

  • Whitmire should keep out of the County’s business. Hopefully the courts will dismiss or deter Whitmire’s proposed bill. If the county wanted to expand the Reliant convention space or build a building garage without issuing a bond…. no one would flinch. They just want to build one inside the Dome. Key words are “without a bond”. The failed refrendem was asking the public to borrow $200 million via bond. The county shouldn’t need to ask permission to spend their funds. If they flop, vote the county politicans out.

  • @ Skeptic: An annuity of $2 million at a 3% discount rate indicates a $66.7 million value…but I can recall Chronicle articles from a way back that pegged the maintenance costs below $1 million per year. We need better cost estimates both for mothballing and for demolition IMO, but based on what I know, it’s mostly a wash. Given that and the choice of it being ‘there’ or being ‘not-there’, I choose ‘there’.
    @ WBC: See above. If it is simply ‘there’ for the equivalent of $66.7 million, but we could have 1,400 parking spaces for $105 million, then really we get the parking spaces for the difference between those two figures, which is $38.3 million (or $27,380 per space). That’s on the high end of the cost of structured parking, but it isn’t outside of an ordinary range AND they’d be able to reclaim a covered eight-acre (350,000-ish-square-foot) venue in the process. That doesn’t really sound like a very bad outcome, especially as I would expect both the parking and the event space to yield *some* additional revenue over it just being ‘there’.

  • @Wolf Brand Chili Your analogy doesn’t seem to consider the fact that the “current” Eiffel Tower would be the first Eiffel Tower. The Astrodome is not just an old stadium; it was the first of a kind. It is an historical landmark; it is a state antiquity. I think Judge Emmett’s plan is a sensible one, and I also thought the 2013 Astrodome bond package was sensible. I was one of the 47% of those who voted for it. Moreover, I agree with those who think the State should not get involved in county matters of this nature.

  • I guess the entire Whitmire family has a fetish for tearing down historic Houston…

  • @TheNiche, another argument against mothballing it is the timeline for the other major stadium projects. NRG Stadium is halfway through its 30 year lease. If the history of NFL stadium negotiations continues in its present arc, about 10 years from now the Texans are probably going to ask for, at best, $100Ms in renovations or, at worst, a $1B+ new stadium from the HCSCC. Move those dates up about three years and the move those numbers down a bit and the Astros are in the same position. The Rockets lease at the Toyota Center will expire in 2030. So if we can’t find $40M or so to do something long-term for the Astrodome in the next 5 years, it will be much more difficult in the years to follow.

  • @ Skeptic: Oh, let them pretend that they have leverage and find otherwise. The NFL and MLB are both challenged in terms of their economics in a way that reflects a very long generational arc which has already begun to play out. The window for extortion of the general public is steadily closing. Ignore them. Should they make good on their threats, ignore them still and let them cut off their nose to spite their face.

  • Well if Houston is so international (as so goes the claim) it could prove it by hosting an F1 race; why let Austin have all the fun….and if it does, the Astrodome could be part of the seating as a start/finish space (lots of races do this), just put a big lane down the middle and have seating on both sides. Obviously full enclosure isn’t what is needed here but at least the ceiling and most of the structure’s historical/typical use could remain intact.
    I’ve heard and overheard this being proposed in conversation multitudes of times but never seem to read about such an idea, anywhere. Maybe it’s too pie in the sky to even consider? Or nobody in Houston cares about racing? If there were ever a uniting heuristic, maybe Making The Best F1 Race In The World could be something to orient the city-building effort around. Again, no sense in letting Austin have all the fun.

  • Whitmire says, “We had an election on this issue already. They lost and they want to forget that and ignore the will of the voters.” He fails to mention or remind folks that the county proposal voted on in 2013 was to issue a bond AND to levy an additional tax to pay for it!
    The commissioner’s court has already approved the $105M spend with no bond and no threat of new taxes to pay for the project.

  • Wolf Brand Chili:

    Regarding your comment – “Whichever choice gets the most votes, wins. Simple, effective, and gets the message through to some very thick heads down at the County Administration building,” we investigated such ballot language in 2013 and were told explicitly by the Harris County Attorney’s Office that such language is illegal. Apparently you cannot write ballot language in such “either/or” language. You’d have to ask the lawyers for the “why.” Just wanted you to know the county considered that, but was told no.

  • @TheNiche I certainly hope the existing leases can be renewed without enormous expense, but after fifteen years this is the only plan that makes the stadium useful at minimal cost to County taxpayers.

    I can’t conceive anything better will come along, and once the discussion for renewals begin the competition for money will drown out consideration of another plan. Bottom line – if nothing is done now, it will probably sit another 20 years before any other plan will have a chance.

    FWIW, Whitmire is suggesting it’s ridiculous to spend property tax money on the dome when it could be spent on other facilities, i.e. spending it on projects dictated by the Texans and the Rodeo. That’s in the best interest of County taxpayers?

  • This is Texas, OF COURSE the state is going to be involved in everything the county and/or city does.

  • ChrisJ, to say that CC has “approved” money with “no bond and no threat of new taxes” is to willfully ignore that we’re still talking about public spending of fungible money (from flood/drainage, roads, tax relief, or any other pet cause).

    At $100M, this implies $75K a space in the AstroparkingLot not to mention ongoing operating cost. Almost any real estate near NRG could be acquired, leveled, and developed into a parking lot or structure at lower cost if their was an actual need for more parking.

    Demo the Dome — for a fixed one-time expense, honor Houston’s spirit of building, demo, and rebuilding.