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
MAYOR TURNER WANTS A THEME PARK IN THE MIDDLE OF HOUSTON AGAIN How do you turn Houston into a major tourist destination? Mayor Turner says that the occasional giant sporting event and annual rodeo festivities don’t cut it, writes Clifford Pugh this week. In a post-Astroworld landscape, Turner tells Pugh that his administration is “taking a hard look” at bringing an amusement park to the city — not just nearby, but actually in Houston: “I’m not talking about in Katy or Tomball or Spring or Pearland. I’m talking about within the 640 square miles of the city of Houston. That’s something we are missing, and we are putting [the idea] out in the atmosphere. Hopefully there will be major investors who are looking within the 640 square miles. You can’t be the fourth largest city, soon to be the third, and not have that added component.” [CultureMap; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pleasure Pier on Galveston Island: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
HOUSTON LIBRARY WANTS YOUR ONLINE ASTROWORLD NOSTALGIA AS 1967 MODEL GOES ON DISPLAY DOWNTOWN Remember that Craigslisted model of AstroWorld that got bought up by the head of an Astro-tasked engineering firm back in 2011? I. A. Naman + Associates president Thomas G. Barrows evidently made good on his announced plan to donate the construction visualization model to the Houston Public Library, which is now about ready to start showing it off — the model will be on public display at the Central branch Downtown at 500 McKinney St. by next Wednesday, April 6th, with a reception planned for that evening. While you’re waiting, the library wants you to tweet and Facebook them your videos, photos, and most enthusiastic memories of Houston’s themepark days. [Houston Public Library, previously on Swamplot] Photo of AstroWorld model: Bill Davenport
Some zoomy conceptual renderings of the University of Texas’s coming Houston campus, centered on the largely undeveloped intersection of Buffalo Spdwy. and Willowbend Blvd., made their debut at last month’s Board of Regents meeting, where the intended purchase of land for the project was announced. Buffalo Spdwy. gently winds through the drawings of the new campus to a track and several baseball diamonds along Holmes Rd. (which runs horizontally across the top of the image above).
Although the images are only “concepts”, the pictures do provide a sense of how the campus might unfold: For example, that linear water feature shown at the center of the campus aligns with an existing drainage ditch on the property, and the 3 long, low structures in the foreground are good candidates for parking garages, which will be needed regardless of the new institution’s yet-to-be-decided purpose.
Existing residential communities and industrial parks are here rendered as sparsely-treed fields — the boundary of the land slated for purchase by UT currently houses several apartment complexes on the north side and the Orkin Industrial Surplus facility to the south.
But another conceptual rendering (this one looking northwest across Holmes Rd. towards the distant Williams Tower) shows the campus in place amongst some of its eclectic neighbors:
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Welcome to the neighborhood
Dallas Fort Worth investment group that bought up the vacant 104-acre AstroWorld site in 2010, then sold off portions of it — including a 48-acre chunk to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo late last year — is now trying to find a buyer for the last remaining big piece of the former amusement park: 44 acres fronting Reliant Park across the freeway to the north, Sam’s Club and MetroRail’s end-of-the-line Fannin South Station to the east, and West Bellfort to the south. An odd-shaped 6.3-acre bite taken out of the HalfstroWorld property on the southeast corner belongs to Metro, which is reserving the space for future station expansion or relocation for a future rail line along Route 90A.
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For a charitable nonprofit, Rodeo Houston comes across as a tad indifferent about one of Houston’s neediest causes: CEO Skip Wagner tells the Houston Business Journal‘s Emily Wilkinson that Rodeo Houston is “busting at the seams” and needs more space: “And we’ve got 18 acres that is just wasted right in the heart of Reliant.” What, Wilkinson asks, would Wagner prefer to see happen to the Astrodome?
“Honestly, we don’t care. There are two options — one is tear it down. If so, it would become open area, and we would use it effectively that way. Second, ultimately if they gut it or renovate it, as long as we can use it to put on elements of our show, then we’re fine with that.”
And what about the 48 acres Rodeo Houston bought of the former AstroWorld site across 610? “We could move things like our bus operations over there and expand the presentation footprint (at Reliant),” says Wagner. “We can look at how to use it for its maximum benefit — maybe put in some RV hookups.”
Photo: Candace Garcia
Longtime speculation that the entire vacant 104-acre site formerly occupied by the AstroWorld amusement park might someday be turned into some sort of singular mixed-use development took a hit yesterday as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo announced it is buying the entire western half of the property, which sits across the 610 Loop from Reliant Park. The charitable organization hopes to close on the 48-acre tract by the end of the year. The purchase price is listed on its website as approximately $42.8 million, or $20.50 per sq. ft., “after charitable considerations by the seller.” That’s a Dallas investment firm known as the Mallick Group, which has owned the vacant property since 2010.
What will it rodeo do on all that land?
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A 20-or-so-acre piece of the 104-acre part-time parking lot across the South Loop from Reliant Park formerly known as AstroWorld has traded hands, a developer tells HBJ reporter Jennifer Dawson. But the buyer hasn’t identified itself, and Dawson couldn’t get any of the parties involved to tell her who it is (Dawson says she spoke to 15 people to report her story). Who owns the remaining 80 or so acres of the giant parcel on the south side of the South Loop, between Kirby and Fannin, at the end of the rail line? At last report, a partnership controlled by Fort Worth’s Mallick Group, who bought it in 2010 for $10 cash — and a willingness to assume the previous owner’s $74 million loan.
But a consultant who claims to be involved in redevelopment efforts on the property would only refer to the owner of the main portion of the vacant lot as “an out-of-state land investor” — who has now, she says, created a master plan for the site. Heather Schueppert tells Dawson that details of a proposed mixed-use project — probably combining office, retail, medical and hospitality components — will be revealed quietly in the next couple of months, but won’t be unveiled to the general public for at least a year.
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A local engineering firm is buying the original 1967 model of AstroWorld listed for sale recently on Craigslist — and plans to donate it to the Houston Public Library’s Metropolitan Research Center, so that it can be put on display in the newly expanded Julia Ideson Building. I.A. Naman + Associates president and “very regular” Swamplot reader Thomas G. Barrow says he learned about the model from our post yesterday: “My accountant happened to be walking by my office and I asked if I could have some money. He looked at the piece and said ‘That’s cool!’ and a few minutes later we did the deal.” Barrow says he’s already spoken with library officials about the installation, and that they’ve already begun looking for an interim home for the model before it goes on display to the public. Naman was the mechanical and electrical design engineer for AstroWorld, the Astrodome, and several related facilities.
Photos: Bill Davenport
Why is the original scale model of AstroWorld listed for sale on Craigslist? Curator Bill Davenport spent a lot of time dusting the giant model before exhibiting it at his Norhill gallery last fall. He says he’s going to need to move the “irreplaceable (if awkwardly large) bit of Houston history” out of Optical Project on 11th St. soon — “and I really don’t want to dis-assemble it and put it back in Mr. Henderson’s garage, where it will get dirty again.” Ed Henderson built the model in 1967; it was returned to him when the park was dismantled 6 years ago — after long stints in Judge Hofheinz’s 9th-level suite at the Astrodome, and in a Foley’s display case downtown before that. For the Craigslist appearance, Davenport jacked up the asking price to $5,500, but says Henderson would accept $3,000 “from somebody who planned to keep the model in Houston, or donate it to the Houston Public Library’s Metropolitan Research Center.” Library representatives have told Davenport they’d like to put the model on display in the newly expanded Julia Ideson building downtown, but don’t have the money to pay for it.
Photos: Bill Davenport
COMMENT OF THE DAY: OF COURSE, RESTORING THE ACTUAL ASTROWORLD WOULD BE A LITTLE MORE INVOLVED “I went to see this Saturday night. It’s in fairly ragged shape, but with a little skill and time it could easily be restored. I think the skills that an avid model railroader possesses would be adequate to restore this. Many of the familiar Astroworld rides are depicted, although no rollercoasters (except for the Alpine Sleigh Ride, which just barely qualifies). All the big roller coasters came later. Among the excellent features in the 1:144 scale model were Judge Hofheinz’s personal on-site office as well as his personal train station!” [Robert Boyd, commenting on For Sale: Early Model AstroWorld]
FOR SALE: EARLY MODEL ASTROWORLD
Sure, AstroWorld shut down 5 years ago tomorrow — and the site still lies vacant. But Ed Henderson, builder of the original model of the amusement park (shown at left with his creation 43 years ago), is looking for a buyer who’ll preserve and restore it. The recently recovered 8-ft.-by-10-ft. construction goes on display for 6 weeks beginning this Saturday night at Bill Davenport’s Optical Project gallery on 11th St. near the Heights. The model was originally displayed in September 1967 at Foley’s Department Store Downtown. “After the park’s opening, the model resided in [Judge Roy] Hofheinz’s private model room on the Astrodome’s 9th level. When Astroworld was being dismantled in 2006, the model was found in a warehouse, sawn into six irregular pieces and covered in dirt.” Davenport, who’s already spent a while cleaning up the model, tells Swamplot he can’t decide if the $3,000 asking price is “expensive for a big project in need of restoration or unbelievably cheap as a unique piece of Houston history, or both.” [Optical Project; previously on Swamplot] Photos: Bill Davenport
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOPING THERE’LL STILL BE RIDES AT WHATEVER REPLACES ASTROWORLD “They might even put in a sweet gondola system.
Or maybe a high-speed, elevated, rail-based shuttle system with small, open-air, 2-to-4 passengers cars to get you from building to building. And maybe they could incorporate some steeply banking curves and a loop or two along the route.” [Benjy Compson, commenting on Green and Wiggly AstroWorld Redevelopment Plan Coulda Been a Contender]
The ambitious mixed-use “eco urban” project shown here — intended for the site of the former AstroWorld — was the idea of a south Florida developer who had the property under contract for an extended period of time, a source tells Swamplot. Called Epicentre Houston, Vantage Plus Corp.’s gargantuan development was meant to be a “city within a city” — combining typical mixed-use elements (1.6 million sq. ft. of shops, 5.2 million sq. ft. of offices, 1500 hotel rooms, and 1840 residences) with 1.9 million sq. ft. of medical space, all within walking distance of Reliant Park, the light-rail line, and the South Loop Sam’s Club.
The developer was scheduled to close on the property approximately 5 months ago, but was unable to, says the source. The 104-acre lot just south of the South Loop has since been sold to Fort Worth developer Michael Mallick, who doesn’t appear to be hiding any fancy renderings of transparent banana-shaped multipurpose buildings up his sleeve.
Oh, but what might have been! More zoomy images of the theme-park redo:
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ASTROWORLD IN PIECES Want to know what new owner Michael Mallick might do with the former AstroWorld site across the South Loop from Reliant Park? It’s none of your business: “As head of a small private real estate investment group based in Forth Worth, Mallick emphasizes the word ‘private’ and won’t even say if he owns any other properties in Houston. . . .
Mallick says he would be just fine if nobody ever knew his group acquired the Astroworld site.
But word got out and his phone has been ringing for the past two weeks since the deal was completed.
‘We have a few groups that have come to us that have proposals that want portions of it,’ says Mallick. . . . He’s not sure what will become of the land, but says a decision will probably be made around the end of the year. The group might hold the property for three to five years. Or perhaps sell the entire parcel once the market turns around. Or maybe sell off the defunct theme park in pieces.” [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot]