Charged with figuring out what to do with the Astrodome, those wacky folks at the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation have at last identified a viable new use for the aging multipurpose venue. Their idea this time: turn it into . . . a multipurpose venue! Using a $50,000 budget granted by county commissioners, consultants hired by the corporation demonstrated the clear advantages of large-scale design by committee. One actual specific recommendation of the consultants’ report, issued yesterday: A feasibility study, which would — among other things — identify an “overall concept” for the project.
To help communicate their ideas for the space, both the written and PowerPoint versions of the report include several drawings that show large numbers of possibly confused people wandering about pointlessly in and around a revamped Dome:
A major strength of this latest plan is that it incorporates a number of other concepts to reuse the structure that have been suggested over the years — thereby neutralizing the threat that any competing proposals might garner support. The revised Reliant Park Master Plan includes some of these: a hotel with a skybridge connection, a parking garage, a “festival plaza,” a racetrack, and yes, even horse stables — though all are placed outside the confines of the Dome.
The multipurpose venue itself would include a planetarium; some sort of institute promoting science, technology, engineering, and math; thermal and stormwater storage; and yes, solar panels arrayed in the shape of a world map on the roof.
A fancier version of the same proposal, dubbed “Astrodome Renaissance,” would include privately funded upgrades, including a sustainability and alternative-energy center; museums (notably one focused on the Astrodome itself); a movie studio; and what appear to be NASA-related theme-park-style “destinations,” such as a “global science forum,” a “starship navigator,” an “earth orbit command” center, a “deep ocean quest,” and the obvious “energy frontier.” With these plans, everybody wins! The committee has listened to all of your ideas . . . and assimilated them! What other options could you possibly want?
The report throws around a few enclosed-ballpark cost estimates, but assumes all basic upgrades to the structure would be publicly funded. Not including upgrades to the surrounding facilities, you get a base-model refurbished Dome for $324 million. Then there’s the cheaper option: For just $128 million, they’ll crush the Astrodome into tiny bits, leaving just an imprint on a plaza. Just putting those two numbers side by side appears to be the main point of the entire exercise. Mothballing the facility until the corporation’s management team retires would likely be much cheaper, but that option isn’t on the table.
The Sports and Convention Corporation has a long and admirable record of promoting and carefully guarding a series of comical and somewhat dubious proposals for the Dome. But there may be a method to this latest mind-numbing plan. An online ballot presents only three choices: the 2 “multipurpose venue” proposals — matched with estimates of high taxpayer-funded price tags but no mention of potential revenue — and the “tear the darn thing down already” option. No room for write-in candidates, and no option to kick out the corporation’s hapless management team and follow a less haphazard and stultifying process. If the Corporation’s goal was to sway popular opinion in favor of spending $128 million in public funds to demolish the dome, it’s hard to imagine how they could have choreographed it any better.
- What’s next for Reliant Astrodome and Reliant Park? [Reliant Park]
- The Astrodome Dilemma [Houston Chronicle]
- Astrodome coverage [Swamplot]