Neat Trick from Sports and Convention Corp. Cuts Astrodome, Everyone Else’s Ideas Down To Size

Correction: An earlier version of this story repeated an assertion included in a Houston Business Journal blog post by Shaina Zucker — that the Sports Corporation’s proposal for the Astrodome included a plan to lower the building’s roof. That reporting is in error; we’ve now corrected the information in the story below. Although the Sports Corporation is not proposing to lower the roof, it is proposing to raise the structure’s floor to ground level, which would result in a smaller interior for the Dome. Swamplot regrets the error.

The clearest sign so far that the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation wasn’t really into the half-hearted call for bids to redevelop the Astrodome it sorta-but-not-really issued a couple months ago? At yesterday’s press conference where it — surprise! — announced its own plan to reinvent Houston’s most recognizable landmark, officials didn’t even bother to describe any of the 19 submissions it had received. None of them, declared executive director Willie Loston, actually came with private money attached. (At least not in the inside pockets of their presentation binders.)

The Corporation’s own new idea of turning the dilapidated former sports stadium into additional convention space doesn’t have any private funds attached to it either, but the estimated $194 million plan does already appear to have gained the enthusiastic support of County Judge Emmett — which isn’t so surprising, since he proposed a similar idea a mere 4 years ago. Rodeo chief Leroy Shafer tells the Chronicle’s Kiah Collier that he considers the latest plan to be a scaled-back version of a proposal the Corporation — with the Rodeo’s backing — promoted last year, after a half-million-dollar study led by some Dallas consultants.

Turning the Dome into a space for swim meets, graduations, and overflow events of the Offshore Technology Conference may not be the bold transformation many Houstonians had imagined for the city’s monument to innovation and reinvention, but the plan’s true proponents are hoping the ominous “this is your last chance or we’ll demolish it” framing — along with the lower price tag — will be enough to garner support from the Commissioners Court and the voters who’ll likely have to approve any bond issue.


In keeping with the building’s newly imagined lower profile, the redeveloped Astrodome would, in fact, shrink. The domed roof would be lowered, The stair towers added to the exterior of the structure in the eighties would be removed, and the floor would be filled in and raised to street level, effectively lowering the ceiling height by about 33 ft. Large windows on the north, south, east, and west sides would be put in, and 60,000 seats would be taken out. They’d end up with 355,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a ring of retail-y spaces facing outward along the building’s base, and a little green plaza out front. By the time the 2017 Super Bowl rolls around, if all goes according to plan, Reliant Stadium would sport a new front entrance — and the Astrodome will have been repurposed into the world’s largest . . . event foyer.

Having neatly disposed of all possible alternatives (save, of course, demolition), the Corporation is now passing its this-or-nothing proposal onto the county commissioners. They’ll vote on the plan next week. If the whole thing is an ingenious ploy to cue the Dome up for demolition — which the Texans and the Rodeo have a study saying they could do for a cool $29 million — we might get a sense of that fairly soon.

Images: Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation

47 Comment

  • Just tear it down already.

  • So seeing other’s proposals was just a PR stunt giving cover for the strong-arming of their own pet proposal, a chop-roofed events hall ringed with retail? This might seamlessly set up an eventual future scenario as the world’s largest swap meet.

  • So, how much is this going to cost me?

  • They clearly didn’t consider my bid to turn it into a indoor ski resort.. that would be AWESOME!

    Otherwise.. implode it..

  • I am pumped about this, I was on board to tear it down, but after reading about how Reliant stadium already had the most parking of most, if not all, major league teams, I changed my position. This will be an awesome addition to OTC and many other conventions. I saw a proposal a few months back after digging though a google search. Definitely a scaled back version from the hotel and sky bridge idea but a good start to the vision they proposed.

  • Not that this is a terrible plan, but what a bunch of scumbags. The Sports/Conv Corp has way too much power.

  • And people complain about welfare moms and food stamps. These guys are the real takers. I submit a late proposal; turn the Astrodome into the world’s largest Good Old Boys Museum.

  • It will be interesting to see how much the preservationists jump on board with this. Because it looks like they’re preserving pretty much nothing.

    And yeah, how much am I going to pay so they’ve got more space to hawk t-shirts and bobble heads?

  • I’ll say it again – sell it to Kinder Morgan as an oil storage tank. What could be more Houston?

  • The news conference was a PR farce. We have regressed to back room decision making,keep smoking your cigars. Hopefully the public will wise up and shoot this idea down. The public should see the other proposals and vote on them.

  • Great plan, terrible people. Unfortunately this is government at its finest and most effective. We’ll have something nice – not as nice as it could be, but nice – and we’ll slowly wash the sour taste out of our mouths. They’ll get whatever it is that they’re getting out of it (we’ll find out what that really is some time in the future). For a few more decades, the Astrodome will survive in a somewhat useful format.

  • They sure know how to dream big don’t they. What a grand idea to inspire future generations. People will come from countries world wide to visit our new convention space. If that doesn’t bring in the tourist dollars I don’t know what will.

  • 5 Years from now you’ll be reminded of all this (and the other failed attempts) while reading the story under the headline “Astrodome 1965-2018: Last piece hauled away at midnight”.

  • The Sports Authority really didn’t have any interest in ideas from the general public. They could of at least provided some CAD drawings and more refined criteria. It would have given groups a sense on how enormous the Dome really is (30′ below ground) and ??? tall. It would have given an idea on the grandstands and the concourses. Drawings, architectura/ structural, would have given the public a good sense on what would have been achievable.

    I did a Google search for the Astrodome blueprints. A website had some barely legible pdf set of blueprints. UT has a set in Austin in one of their libraries.

    The point being is that if the blueprints of the original Dome were readibly available, I feel the proposals would have been better defined and more professional.

  • Bring the Astros back to the Dome named for them. Cut ticket prices by 2/3 across the board. Make parking free. Getting rid of the Crawford Box cheapie home runs will be the best thing ever for all the young pitchers, and the Stros haven’t had any real power hitters since Bagwell anyway (who played a good bit of his career in the Dome) Get rid of the luxury boxes that ruined the scoreboard and remake the scoreboard. Redevelop the much more valuable Minute Maid Park site into whatever, some downtown-y thing like lofts or a hotel. Done.

  • What a waste of time and energy for those who actually spent time with submissions. Tear this eye-soar down. It’s an embarrassment at this point, and with all the Sports Corp, County Commissioners and Rodeo constituents, nothing will ever get done, no one will ever agree, and money will continue to be wasted. That’s the true reality. Let’s cut our losses and move on, and not give those numskulls anymore time of day.

  • What I don’t understand is why the City would allow a large convention center to compete against the GRB. It has spent a fortune exapanding and providing hotel space to support downtown conventions. Are there really THAT many gigantic conventions to have two? We aren’t Vegas, NY, Chicago, and don’t have the weather of other locations that attract the conventions. Maybe someone on here can educate those of us not in the convention industry how on Earth this is going to work out as a financial net PLUS for Houston taxpayers.

  • This has been one of the worst Swamplot comment threads in a long time. “Gosh, I hate government officials, lets tear down the Astrodome, that’ll show ’em.” I wish I had the last five minutes of my life back.

  • They created a win/win for themselves..if apporved they get a new play ground payed for by tax payers.. if it fails they get their extra space.. the whole outside proposal was just to look like they were being fair, they planned this all along.. How do you shoot down 19 propoals then come out with your own(after the deadline) when asked why non of the proposal were pass along , you said they did not have funding inplace, but your own proposal does not ither? I wanted the dome save but not like this, not to reward these greedy bastards !!

  • What’s with with all you people calling to tear down the Astrodome? You think a parking lot will be better? How do you like that parking lot where the Shamrock Hilton used to me? You all act like you are from Dallas.

  • Either tear it down or get the giant corporations to pay for it.

    No tax dollars to pay to build it just so the giant corporations can use it.

    Getting a little old paying for all this BS that the government shouldn’t even be a part of.

  • If they really want to be fair, the ballot measure should have two choices: 1) make the Astrodome one of the most expensive convention exhibit halls in the world or 2) tear it down. If it is just a vote on whether to fund the project or not, we will just end up going through all of this again when everyone screams at the announcement to demo the dome for parking.

  • The idea is okay. Not bold or revoluntionary, like the original Astrodome. But okay. For the most part, it seems plausible, affordable, and serving the general public.

    I do not understand why they want to lower the roof. This seems like an enormous expense to undergo, removing the roof once lamella truss at a time and replacing it. During the original construction a series of temporary tower resembling oil derricks supported the roof. It seems something similar would be done in order to lower the roof.

    I am curious to know if lowering the roof is for asthetics or to lower the A/C of the Dome convention center.

  • “Maybe someone on here can educate those of us not in the convention industry how on Earth this is going to work out as a financial net PLUS for Houston taxpayers.”

    Just like other similar projects (ie. stadiums, community colleges, some municipal improvements, toll roads) with……
    Bonds! Municipal Bonds. The capital is borrowed via selling bonds on the bond markets. The note is paid off via income generated from the facility. Ideally the facility would pay for itself over time. And, no taxes you pay would to the revitalized Dome.

    But, note some government entities that serve the “Common Good” ie. public transportation (light rail, airports, AMTRAK), the Postal Service, were never intended to be self-sufficent and require some funds from taxpayers to function.

  • I like the idea. I do not want it torn down. With more convention space we will maybe number 2 after Chicago. I remember when I was a little boy and my Dad took me to see the Astros. It was amazing and it is a historical landmark. The voters will decide and keep it with us.

  • We have been repeatedly told the trend in conventions is to have plenty of hotel space and entertainment within walking distance of the convention center. This is the reason the city has spent $27 million in grants to the future Marriott downtown and soon to be millions more on the downtown district development credits.

    Before taxpayers approve this they need to explain why we should believe this effort will be successful? There are no hotels nearby and no entertainment options close by… I wouldn’t want to be stuck in that area for a convention.

  • I agree with JD. Why would the City allow another huge convention center to compete with GRB? The hotels hotels being built by discovery green will be very upset if this goes through.

  • This is a laughable and unacceptable recommendation by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. This was a farce right from the start, requesting that bids be presented which include private money, yet the only plan presented by them comes with $194M of public money. All bids must abide by the same rules. Shame on these clowns for wasting the time and effort of the 19 groups that submitted plans, knowing full well they had their own answer in the back of their own book.

    Make the GRB the focus of all convention activity, with hotels, entertainment and Discovery Green as the attractions for a world class convention experience. This plan deserves to be dismissed before ever reaching the ballot.

  • Bitch, bitch, bitch Astrodome. Bitch, bitch, tear it down bitch, Bitch too much money. Bitch, bitch, Bud Adams bitch. Harris County Sports Authority bitch, bitch, bitch. Convention bitch. Bitch good ole boys bitch, bitch, bitch. Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, rodeo. Cheap bitch. Bitch, bitch Texans, bitch, Oilers, Astros, Rockets, bitch, bitch. President Obama bitch, Mayor Parker, bitch, Rick Perry BITCH!

  • No…we do not need another convention center. Regular Joe @ #26 makes an excellent point with the lack of entertainment and hotels in the area. I am all for development around the Dome, but not at the expense of money we have already spent downtown. Let’s keep our convention center focus downtown.

    I would much rather spend those same funds and make a museum out of the space. I imagine they could do it for a similar budget. Or if we must tear it down, then put in some green space. We don’t need more parking for Rheliant.

  • In describing the expectations for this plan, KUHF had a member of the Sports Authority quoted as saying that the expected revenues generated by this redevelopment plan would _mostly_ cover the operating costs of the revamped dome.


    If this is going to take ongoing public subsidy, then take it back to the skeleton and turn it into a park. Perhaps if we add room under the roof for dogs and soap box derbies, we might actually engender some support for something cool, rather than sinking a ton of money on an ongoing basis to keep cows and mock-ups offshore rigs, well, cool.

  • To Bitch’s point…Dallas bitch! Enough already.

  • Interesting timing when NBC highlighted the current state of the Dome during last night’s national news ( made no mention of the recent bid process for revamping, although they did include that in the web piece

  • Wow, retail space, maybe some restaurants or bars too, eh? So they are recreating the defunct Pavilion down at Reliant Park? Sounds like a toxic plan concocted by greedy politicians and their sleazy buddies and will be paid for by taxpayers, through the Metro sales tax money just like the funding shortfall on the bonds for our sports palaces.

  • so of course i haven’t read the comments, but i assume we all can at least agree this is a stupid idea, right. these guys ain’t smokin cigars in their back offices, they’re hitting the crack pipe.

  • The new idea for the dome is just lame they want to strip it down and raise the floor to street level and use it as a multi purpose venue there are 4 or 5 other venues like this around town and the 196million price tag sounds kinda high just to strip it down and raise it. Houston does not need this venue this is the only plan the Rode Commit and the Texans agreed to all of the other plans they said hell no to. If they do turn the dome into this the Rode will see 20% to 30% more people for the Rode which they do not need people that live within 2 to 3 miles do not want more people coming to the Rode

  • I wish t

  • I wish there were some way to reach you, but I would like to correct a false assertion that is being repeated here. I am the communications director for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, and I want to clarify that there is nothing in the recommended proposal that calls for the Astrodome roof to be lowered. That information is false and was also contained in a Houston Business Journal story that has since been corrected. Unfortunately, I see no way on your site to reach the writer directly, but I certainly hope Mr. West would correct this error and perhaps explain whence he received the fale information.
    Thank you.

  • @Joe Stinebaker: Thanks for clarifying. The story has been updated.

  • I still say we need to get formal bids for demolition so we will know exactly how much demolition will cost. Spend a few hundred thousand to hire a demolition consultant to develop a plan and then seek bids.

    My feeling is that all the numbers that have been floated for demolition are vastly inflated – even the $29 million cited in this article. The demolition cost for Texas Stadium was $5.883 million. (There may have been some other costs, but I fairly certain $5.833 million was most of it.)

    Once we have a firm cost, we will be in a better position to make a decision.

  • $200 million to try to make something into something it was never intended to be? A colossal waste of money. Tear it down and put a park in its place along with a monument of some kind to the old dome.

  • It’s a done deal people –let it go

  • Issuing a request for proposals in bad faith seems on the face of it like it should be illegal. They prompted a lot of people to expend a tremendous amount of time and effort for absolutely no reason, and it also seems to obfuscate and undermine the political process.

    The people that put together bids might want to talk to an attorney. Maybe there’s a class action suit or other legal actions that could be brought to bear.

  • What part of “must provide source of funding to be considered” wasn’t communicated correctly. It sounds like many or all of the submitters wasted the time of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. I don’t think they have much of a case for compensation for spending money on their presentations when they failed to meet the first and most important requirement for submitting their proposals.

  • I think I get it now. The main goal here has always been to create a public structure that looks good on a national NFL telecast.

    An Eiffel Astrodome is a nice idea, as is an indoor ski or sun resort, but it’s incongruous with the site: a nationally recognized football stadium and a large convention complex.

    If the dome were sitting by itself, unused, on a lot which was not proximal to these other things, there might have been more latitude to consider more unique and colorful ideas. The public did not consider the criterion “Looks Nice On National (Superbowl) Telecasts” in its submissions.

    I take no position on this, BTW. It’s either good or bad. Either this new complex will accrue prestige to Houston via telecast football games, or it won’t. Time will tell. I’m just saying that this hypothesis is the only way I can make sense of what’s happening.

  • Where to start… hmmm. Seems the first thing that could happen that would be useful is to try persuade all the individuals and groups who submitted proposals to publish those proposals, somehow, somewhere, financials and proprietary information redacted, whatever. But publish. You have an absolute right to publish your own proposal, and the voters should be afforded the opportunity to see as many as can be shared. Should make a fascinating and fun exhibit somewhere, maybe at a Harris County library? One of our wonderful art galleries? Maybe Swamplot could organize something!