TALK ASTRODOME TOMORROW WITH THE GUYS THAT WROTE THE BOOK ON IT There’s a new tell-all biography of the Astrodome out this fall, now that year 50 since the stadium’s mid-1965 opening has wrapped up. Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth Womack’s The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome covers Dome history from its development days, and gets into how the building shaped Houston and Houston’s reputation. The authors, one of whom has also written another book about stadium construction politics, will be in town tomorrow night for a free talk and book signing — you can check out the when-and-where and RSVP here. The book includes what University of Nebraska Press refers to as some of the structure’s more “memorable problems, such as outfielders’ inability to see fly balls and failed attempts to grow natural grass — which ultimately led to the development of Astroturf.” The text also touches on some of the most recent will-they-won’t-they preservation scuffles— though its publication date precedes this year’s approval by Harris County of initial funding for that plan to turn the bottom levels of the stadium into a parking garage. [University of Nebraska Press] Image of book cover: University of Nebraska Press
NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATIONISTS TO GATHER IN HOUSTON, GAWK AT ASTRODOME The National Trust for Historic Preservation — that’d be the folks that coined the ‘orgy of irrational destruction’ line picked up by Save the Bungalows a few years back — is holding its annual conference in Houston for the first time, starting next Tuesday. Current president Stephanie Meeks cites the city’s “compelling preservation story,” amid a regional lack of preservation-minded rules and regulations, as a reason for picking the city. Planned field trip locales include the Astrodome (currently getting ready for that basement parking garage remodel), as well as Mission Control, the artsifying warehouses and industrial facilities around Washington Ave., and a handful of Galveston historic districts. Also on the docket: the debut of the organization’s Atlas of ReUrbanism (a digital collection of built environment data aimed public officials, reporters, and other city data scavengers), for which Houston is one of 5 starter cities. Would-be attendees can catch some conference sessions next Tuesday through Friday in the neighborhood of the newly-game-faced George R. Brown Convention Center; those who don’t want to make the trip downtown can watch some sessions at home. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: SAVE-THE-DOME SAGA’S PARKING GARAGE ENDING LEAVES ROOM FOR A SEQUEL “I think people are missing the larger view here. Of course there is plenty of current surface parking — but putting parking beneath the Dome begins to open up the possibility of densification on this site and on the old Astroworld site. This is the first, and necessary, step in transforming this entire area. I am betting that in 20 years or so this site will barely resemble the vast wasteland of parking lots and open space that it is today.” [SH, commenting on County Approves First $10.5 Million for Astrodome Basement Parking Garage Plan] Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COUNTY APPROVES FIRST $10.5 MILLION FOR ASTRODOME BASEMENT PARKING GARAGE PLAN The Harris County commissioner’s court voted this morning to approve the design phase of that plan to fill in the Astrodome’s below-grade levels with a 2-story parking garage. Mihir Zavari writes that today’s vote okayed the first tenth of the estimated $105 million cost, which the commissioners say will be split between hotel taxes, parking revenue, and the county’s general fund; Zavari notes that “the general fund component, around $30 million, is roughly equivalent to the amount the county estimates it would cost to demolish the Dome.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Image of Astrodome parking garage conversion plans: Harris County Engineering Department
ABOUT THAT TIME SOME SEX-FOCUSED TENNIS STARS BATTLED IT OUT ON THE FLOOR OF THE ASTRODOME Craig Hlavaty digs into some ‘Dome history this week on the anniversary of the so-called Battle of the Sexes: the 1973 tennis match in which then-50-year-old Bobby Riggs tried and failed to “put [29-year-old] Billie Jean King and all the other Women’s Libbers back where they belong – in the kitchen and the bedroom,” as he reportedly promised in a deliberately hype-provoking pre-match interview. Hlavaty writes that the event (still the most-watched match in tennis teevee history) belongs on the roster of epic Astrodome happenings “right next to Evel Knievel jumping 13 cars on a motorcycle, Wrestlemania X-Seven (the 17th, if you can smell what the Rock is cooking), and those 6 Elvis Presley shows.” Hlavaty also notes that Riggs stayed in the decked-out Tarzan Room at the nearby AstroWorld Hotel, complete with “actual rope swing, leopard-skin everything, green plastic jungle greenery, and green shag carpet to mimic jungle grass. You can still stay in a version of the room at the hotel, now a Crowne Plaza.” [Houston Chronicle; Astrodome coverage] Postcard of AstroWorld Hotel: arch-ive.org
METRO is currently seeking some public input on replacing the Reliant Park light-rail stop’s outdated moniker. The agency’s preface to the poll notes that the naming rights to the station itself were never a part of Reliant’s $300-million park-branding deal back in 2002, and says any new name “needs to be reflective of the area, but should not include any reference to a corporate entity which might require another change in years to come.”
Setting aside any potential consideration of that plan from a reader to go ahead and get nearly 30 potential future name changes over with at once, the nominated names currently in the running are (drumroll):
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO CAPTURE HALF A DOZEN HOUSTON BIRDS WITH 1 STONE “Turn that freaking albatross of an Astrodome into Pokémon-freaking-Central. Invite Walking-Dead-like zombies from around the world to scour the concourse for Peek-a-freakin-Chew and his/her nonsensical character friends, and charge them ten freaking dollars to get in. . . . Instead of them being a giant pain in the ass as they meander up and down Heights Blvd. around Hamilton Elementary, they’re stuck inside the Eighth Wonder of the World helping Houston solve it’s looming pension problem.” [C.L., commenting on Discovery Green Says No to Pokemon Go; Artist Pads for Acres Homes]
In response to word from the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley this week that the Red Line’s Reliant Park light-rail stop might get its station name updated to an even older name, a Swamplot reader jumps on the case with a system-wide list of potential station name changes that might remain unaffected by the sale, rebranding, or demise of any nearby venues or landmarks. Begley notes it could cost Metro around $486,000 to change the Reliant Park stop’s signage. The agency says it would prefer to make the switch at the same time as 2 other station name changes currently under consideration (if they’re approved) — but not until after the Super Bowl, for which a set of cheaper temporary stickers will be deployed to help visitors find NRG Stadium.
The reader, in the spirit of Houston’s budding redesign-it-yourself urban planning scene, suggests that paying up now to swap out all the names that might become a problem later might actually be a long-term cost-saver. The proposed scheme makes sure every station name mentions a cross-street (or maybe a bayou), and keeps some references to existing transit centers, parks, or neighborhoods.
Here’s the full list of suggested switch-outs, separated by rail line, with the current names on the left:
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What’s In a Name
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW ASTRODOME DÉJÀ-VU COULD FUEL THE NEXT HOUSTON BOOM AND BUST “We shouldn’t have a [tourism] industry because it’s cyclical? Hello — oil industry? That’s the epitome of a cyclical industry. But I do agree with Memebag: Our climate absolutely sucks for an outdoor tourism industry, not to mention being the only city I’ve ever seen that had all the pollution of a deepwater port with none of the scenery. If only we had a gigantic, air conditioned space that could hold an amusement park . . .” [Chris C., commenting on Comment of the Day: Houston Is Not Here For Your Entertainment] Photo of 2007 carnival inside the Astrodome: Jeff Balke
Here are some of the plans the Harris County commissioners looked over this week as they reviewed the engineering study for the proposal to raise the Astrodome’s below-grade floor and stick a parking garage beneath it. The view above shows an entrance ramp for cars from the east, with a service ramp running up from the southwest; NRG Stadium is shown peeking in on the scene from the left.
Got questions about the plan, or about anything else Dome-related? Someone claiming to be involved with the project is now taking inquiries from all comers over on Reddit. The thread started up yesterday and was still active this morning; topics addressed so far have included how the latest proposal would be funded, the feasibility of that spiral-ey skeletonized park idea, and the surprising number of people who have suggested turning the Dome into an indoor skiing venue.
The poster says they’ll try to keep checking back to answer new questions. While you wait, have a look at more views of the proposed changes to the structure — here’s what the ground-level park on Level 3 might look like, with pedestrian entrances on all 4 sides:
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Park and Parking Plans
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO CUT THE COST OF THE FREE ASTRODOME MISCONCEPTION “No one voted to tear [the Astrodome] down. We voted not to spend money to refurbish it. Big difference. The only way forward is a multi-option vote: Tear it down, fix it up, or keep paying to do neither. Spell out the costs of each, so voters won’t assume doing nothing is free.” [Memebag, commenting on Count Wants To Fill In the Astrodome’s Flood Levels with Parking; previously on Swamplot] Illustration: Lulu
COUNTY WANTS TO FILL IN THE ASTRODOME’S FLOOD LEVELS WITH PARKING There are still no set plans for what will eventually happen to the Astrodome, but the county is already gearing up to work on the parking situation. Tomorrow the county commissioners court will look over an engineering report on plans to raise the main floor of the structure (which currently sits some 30 feet below the surrounding grade) and stick a 2-story 1,400-space parking garage beneath it. The meeting’s agenda indicates that approvals on specifics for the roughly $105 million plan won’t be put to a vote until September; a spokesman for county judge Ed Emmett also tells Mihir Zaveri that no construction would start until after the Super Bowl, regardless of approval. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO PRESERVE BOTH THE DOME AND THE DOME PRESERVERS ON THE CHEAP “What we really need to work on is the future Astrodome museum ideas. After it’s eventually torn down, we could have a little building (double-wide trailer, perhaps?) that would house 2 exhibits – one for photos/models of the dome from planning stages to the day it was imploded/ dismantled/ whatever, and another to showcase the hundreds (thousands?) of ideas to save it. I’d be there opening day!” [Native Houstonian, commenting on How To Turn the Astrodome into a Vertigo-Inducing 3D Outdoor Park] Image of proposed Astrodome redevelopment project: A-Dome Park
Architects James Richards and Ben Olschner, dissatisfied with the current talk of turning the Astrodome into the world’s largest air-conditioned park, have started drumming up support (and selling t-shirts) for their own idea for overhauling the long-empty structure: stripping the building of all but its core steel structure (“like the Eiffel Tower in Paris”, the duo’s website reads) and adding a spiraling hike and bike trail up to the center of the roof. The duo estimates the project would cost $180 million to execute ($62 million less than what the indoor park plan is estimated to cost); they expect the work could be paid for as a public-private effort like the one that funded Discovery Green (and branded all of its features).
The plan (which also removes all nonessential letters, redubbing the place A-Dome Park) calls for the replacement of some 13 acres of existing Dome-side parking lot with live oaks, planted in alignment with the building’s steel columns (as seen here from above). Below are a bunch of renderings showing the trees and walkways in place, and some zoomy depictions of the stripped-down ‘Dome back in action:
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