07/17/14 1:00pm

UNMASKING THE CRAFTY NSA, NFL PLAN TO TAKE AWAY OUR PRECIOUS ASTRODOME AND MONITOR YOUR PHONE CALLS AN/FLR-9 Radio Direction Finder at United States Army Security Agency (USASA) Field Station AugsburgUsing techniques, he explains, from “The Consipiracy Theory Style Manual” (“I used as many facts as I could come up with, then I made up a few more”), Houston Chronicle penpal Dave Nagel notes the striking similarities between the reconstructed ring of drive-thru concrete pillars meant to be built as part of a memorial to the Astrodome in a proposal released last week by the Rodeo and the Houston Texans and the circular antenna array called the AN/FLR-9 built in several locations during the Cold War to support U.S. intelligence operations. And concludes: “[I]t’s obvious. The National Security Agency has plans to construct a listening post here in Houston. We know the Supreme Court says the police cannot grab cell phones without a warrant, but now the NSA will just grab all the signals emanating from Texas and will process them from the new intel center at Reliant/NRG. By the way, in military parlance, NRG is National Reconnaissance Group! I believe the NSA is planning to collect intelligence on all known and suspected Republicans here in Texas, and turn it over to the Administration. Every proper conspiracy theorist will say YES! Or, does the NSA plan to eavesdrop on all those nefarious and dangerous children pouring across the border from Honduras and Guatamala? If you have ever worked in a school, you know how dangerous children are, especially ones without parental supervision! Children carry cell phones. Cell phones transmit and receive signals. Do you understand now?” A chilling prospect! But what’s the upshot? Continues Nagel: “[I]f the NSA wants to run an intelligence gathering station at Reliant/NRG, then we won’t have to use local tax money to tear down the dome, we can let NSA do it with their classified budget!” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of AN/FLR-9 radio direction finder at United States Army Security Agency Field Station Augsburg: Wikimedia Commons/Chaddy [license]

07/11/14 12:45pm

Astrodome Blocking Circulation Diagram from Rodeo and Texans ProposalSwamplot will dig into some of the more entertaining and eye-opening details of the proposal later. But in the meantime, before folks go around shouting “heck, yeah!”, hyperventilating, or considering it all but a done deal, you might want to make note of a few circumstances surrounding the release of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Houston Texans‘ 37-page illustrated guide to spending $66 million of somebody’s money to tear down the Astrodome and build a memorial park and “Hall of Fame” in its place.

The proposal was leaked to reporters yesterday — likely before the Rodeo and the Texans had planned, a source tells Swamplot. (A sample “huh?” slide from it is illustrated above.) Nevertheless, the release marks the latest evolution in the 2 organizations’ willingness to publicly acknowledge their (likely longstanding) role as the foremost opponents of preserving the Astrodome in any form. (Last year the Rodeo and the Texans released a cost estimate for turning the Dome into a parking lot.) Whether this is a concerted strategy in the organizations’ campaign to kill the Dome or a fumble, it does signal a possible risk for them: What would happen if the until-now-growing sense among many Houstonians that everything possible has been tried and somehow mysteriously “won’t work” (blow up the place already, I’m tired of hearing about it!) gave way to a realization that the same 2 parties may have, in fact, been responsible for bungling, blocking, discouraging, sabotaging, or outright vetoing every single proposal for saving or revamping the Astrodome over the last dozen years? Would it kill all the seeming public-sentiment victories they’ve achieved so far?

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Dome-Be-Gone for $66 Million
05/16/14 12:00pm

Astrodome, Houston

One of the largest rhetorical weapons in the arsenal regularly wielded by proponents of repurposing or demolishing the Astrodome  over the last several years has been a brutal financial factoid regularly drawn into arguments over the Houston landmark’s future. How much money in maintenance and debt-service costs have county taxpayers had to spend just to keep the retired sports stadium around and rotting? Why $2.4 million or so each year, claimed news report after news report after editorial after news report. Like the once-record-breaking 642-ft. clear span inside, it was just one of those things people who were paying attention knew.

But that figure isn’t accurate, Harris County’s budget chief now says. And at a meeting called by Judge Ed Emmett this week, Bill Jackson tried to set the record straight: First, he said, the Astrodome is “essentially debt free“; all but 5 percent of outstanding debt payments connected to the facility stem from work done in 2002 and 2003 — after the Dome had been retired from professional sports — to prepare the larger park for the Texans to use it. (The total amount of that remaining debt, according to a Houston Chronicle recalculation earlier this year, is $6 million.) Using the accounting principle of “first in, first out,” this means that all debts attributable to the Dome itself have now been paid for, Jackson said.

How about maintenance and insurance costs, then?

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Now Down to $171K a Year, Give or Take?
03/19/14 5:00pm

IT’S GETTING A NAME CHANGE, BUT THE ASTRODOME WILL STILL BE RELIANT ON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS TO REMAIN STANDING North Ticket Booth, Reliant Astrodome, 8400 Kirby Dr., HoustonThe Houston Chronicle‘s Kiah Collier has what appears to be the first official confirmation that the name change NRG Energy plans for Reliant Stadium and Reliant Park is meant to extend to the Astrodome and its signage as well. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. gave the go-ahead to today to rename it all and put up new signs. Say hello to NRG Stadium, NRG Park, NRG Center, and — yes — NRG Arena and NRG Astrodome. [Kiah Collier on Twitter; previously on Swamplot] Photo of demolished ticket booth at Reliant Astrodome: Jim Ellwanger [license]

03/12/14 10:15am

Reliant Astrodome and Reliant Stadium, Reliant Park, Houston

In what appears to be a bid to get more people to pronounce Houston’s major industry in a stilted quasi-drawl, the parent company of Reliant Energy has decided to rebrand Reliant Stadium and Reliant Park. The Houston Chronicle‘s Kiah Collier reports that henceforth (or after a vote by county commissioners at least) they shall be known as NRG Stadium and NRG Park. Collier’s sources don’t seem to have mentioned whether the name-change will result in similar switches for the other structures in the sports-and-convention complex, labeled the Reliant Center, Reliant Arena, and Reliant Astrodome since 2002.

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The New Old Home of the Texans, Etc.
01/31/14 10:15am

THE HOBBLED DOME MAKES HISTORY Interior of Houston AstrodomePsssssssst! Don’t tell anyone, but the Astrodome was quietly listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this month. That means some future use for the almost-50-year-old structure might qualify for a few federal and state tax breaks, and that permits for mining coal on the property now might be a little more difficult to obtain. Also, there’ll likely be some sort of plaque. [National Parks Service, via Anna Mod; more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Russell Hancock

12/10/13 5:00pm

ANOTHER ASTRODOME INDOOR CLEARANCE SALE Astrodome Seats, Reliant Center, HoustonWithout a lot of fanfare, Reliant Park officials have just announced another round of sales of extracted Astrodome furniture. And it’s scheduled to begin tomorrow morning at 8 am. Astrodome seats once graced by the posteriors of thousands of cheering sports fans will be available for purchase online at the Reliant Park website at that time. [Reliant Park; previously on Swamplot] Photo: mokambo.0219

12/09/13 10:15am

After the countdown Sunday night at 9:30 pm, blasts went off on 3 of the 4 booster towers surrounding the Houston Astrodome. But there was no liftoff. As the towers collapsed into dusty piles moments later, it became clear: The blasts would not be enough to propel the Dome off its foundation and into outer space. They’ll have to find another way.

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No Liftoff
12/03/13 4:00pm

Statue of Chief Touch the Clouds by Dave McGary, Reliant Park, HoustonEven the art is getting out of Reliant Park: The bronze Miniconjou chief with outstretched arms that’s stood warily outside the Astrodome since 1998 will likely be skipping town soon and making its way to Oklahoma. The city council of the city of Edmond voted last week to spend up to $90,000 to remove the 18-ft. tall, 20,000-lb. sculpture of Chief Touch the Clouds from its stone base and transport it about 450 miles north; $50,000 of that amount is scheduled to go toward a “donation” to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for the privilege of extracting the artwork. Arizona sculptor Dave McGary, who gave the work to the Rodeo 15 years ago, passed away earlier this year at the age of 55, from a rare form of kidney cancer.

Former Edmond mayor Randel Shadid, who’s been eager to bring more public artworks to the municipality just north of Oklahoma City, tells the Edmond Sun that “a representative from Houston” had told him that the sculpture of a cousin of Sioux warrior Crazy Horse “has been maintained and is in good structural condition.” But the artist’s widow paints a different picture of how the sculpture’s been treated at Reliant Park: that it’s in bad shape and will need to be refurbished. “They never took care of it,” Molly McGary told a reporter from the Oklahoman last week. Edmond city council’s agreement to spend the money is contingent on the sculpture being in good condition.

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Rodeo Astrodome Sell-Off
11/27/13 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HARRIS COUNTY WOULDN’T MISS JUST ONE LITTLE PIECE, ESPECIALLY IF I STRUNG IT OUT OVER SEVERAL YEARS Astrodome Lunchbox“This is starting to feel like the Johnny Cash song where he steals the car one piece at a time. Only in this case, it’s the Dome.” [Walt, commenting on The Astrodome’s Add-On Towers Will Collapse Early Next Month, in the Dark] Illustration: Lulu

11/26/13 10:15am

Ramp Tower, Harris County Domed Stadium, Reliant Park, Houston

Craig Hlavaty rounds up more detail on plans to implode the Astrodome’s 4 exterior ramp towers, which brought to the monolithic stadium structure a more castle-like appearance when they were added for upper-deck and wheelchair access in the late eighties. Cherry Demolition will knock the circular structures down after dark, beginning just after 9 pm on Sunday, December 8, though the weather may require changes to the schedule. Only 3 of the towers will be dynamited and dropped, however; the fourth tower will be brought down piece-by-piece with demo equipment. There won’t be a Texans game going on in Reliant Stadium, so viewing vantage points may be hard to come by.

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The 3 Implosions
11/20/13 4:30pm

Rendering of Floating Astrodome by HiWorks Architecture and Erica Goranson

Sure it’s dug 35 ft. into the earth now, but who’s to say sometime after an additional 3 decades or so of mulling it over we couldn’t insert a steel hull under the thing — so that when the waters of the rising Gulf came for Houston, the Astrodome, stuffed with valuables and maybe a species specimen or two, couldn’t just up and spirit itself away? Of course in this scenario the whole Reliant Park area has already reverted to swamp, and raised-seawall Galveston’s been entirely underwater for a number of spring break cycles. It’s 2050, and after an extra water surge from Hurricane Rick — Rick? — overcomes the submerged island’s new dike, Houston has just a little bit of time left to get the Dome up on moorings, so the gently but steadily rising waters can lift it and carry it off to sea.

“One of the best things about this proposal,” writes the distinguished Reliant Stadium-loathing jury, not missing a beat, “is that it gets the dome away from its neighbor.” And so: second prize for “The Houston Ark,” by San Antonio architects Brantley Hightower (of HiWorks) and Erica Goranson (of Lake Flato Architects), in the strangely timed whatever-shall-become-of-the-Astrodome design competition sponsored by The Architect’s Newspaper and the zippy folks at YKK AP, whose winners were announced earlier this month.

What would this cargo-laden Astrodome carry?

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The Houston Ark
11/18/13 10:30am

Harris County Domed Stadium with Towers

Reliant Park and Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. officials haven’t announced how they intend to demolish the Astrodome’s 4 exterior towers. But on Friday, a city permit was granted for “Implosion of the Helixes at the Astrodome.” Kaboom! The towers, which contain helical ramps for visitors to walk or roll up and crowd down, were added to the Astrodome in 1989 to comply with then-new accessibility regulations. The work coincided with the removal of the original outfield scoreboard and its replacement with 15,000 new seats, at the instigation of Houston Oilers’ owner Bud Adams. Why are the towers going away?

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Dome Blow-Up
11/08/13 5:00pm

What kind of crazy idea is this — an actual open design competition for proposals to remake the Astrodome? And even stranger: One where the winners are scheduled to be announced a few days after voters pass judgment on what county officials had already declared to be the only viable alternative to demolition? Only now — given the results — maybe the timing and the concept don’t seem so absurd?

“Reimagine the Astrodome,” of course, was meant to be a design competition — not one focused on financial or political viability. (Maybe some other folks could put together a corresponding challenge focusing on those aspects.) The sponsors, the Architects’ Newspaper and YKK AP (yeah, the company with its name on your zipper) were hoping that “winning proposals would serve either as a swan song for a doomed architectural icon, or as inspiration for its possible future.” And what came in? 23 submissions ranging from “feasible interventions . . . to wildly imaginative and utterly improbable schemes that nevertheless encapsulated the heady spirit that originally propelled this project to completion in the 1960s.” And the winner, as announced yesterday by a jury not looking for cash flows or approval by the Houston Texans and the Rodeo but rather “strength of concept” and “quality of presentation”: this parking garage. A monument, as the jury of designers put it, “to the pain in the ass that parking is in Houston.”

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11/07/13 10:00am

NOW PICTURE HOUSTON’S ASTRODOME REPLACED BY A GIANT WET PIT Simply filling in the 9-acre, 35-ft.-deep hole in the ground where the Astrodome now sits would eat up more than $10 million of the estimated $28 million it would cost to demolish the publicly owned structure, according to county engineers. (Another $8 million of that total has already been approved, for removal of asbestos, ticket booths, turnstiles, grass berms, and ramps, plus all the seats and interior items; that demo work is already taking place.) Which leads county commissioner Steve Radack to suggest that the money be saved and the site be turned into a giant flood-preventing detention pond — “if and when” it is demolished. That’d make for a rather eloquent and down-to-earth symbol to substitute for Houston’s most famous landmark. Judge Emmett, who before the failed bond vote favored preserving the Dome by renovating it, declared after Tuesday’s election defeat that “We’re going to have to do something quick.” But commissioner Jack Cagle says he has no deadlines for a decision in mind. So who’s pushing to have the Dome demolished in a hurry? The same folks who’ve been calling the aging structure an “inconvenience” to Rodeo and Texans game visitors, write the Chronicle‘s Kiah Collier and Nancy Sarnoff: “Reliant Park’s main tenants, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and the NFL’s Houston Texans want the county to act as quickly as possible, and certainly before the Super Bowl comes to Reliant Stadium in early 2017.” [Houston Politics; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Brays Bayou detention basin: John Lienhard