Note: This story has been updated to indicate that City Council’s October 23 vote approved funding for previous work that was already completed on the plaza, not for future renovations.
This week Houston City Council voted to cut a check to workers that finished the first round of renovations on the plaza. The results of their work — including new fencing, gates, and a terrace — clear the way for the second chapter of redos to begin. The video at top winds it way through round 2 of changes, showing off the new children’s reading area, stage, and outdoor seating bound for the 0.75-acre space between the Jesse H. Jones Building (AKA Central Library) and the Julia Ideson building directly east of it.
While 25-year naming rights are already locked down on the Phillips 66 Jumbo Video Screen (on the right in the rendering abvoe) and Janice and Robert C. McNair Performance Stage (left), the puppet theater depicted below is still in need of a namesake:
What’s going on with the Astrodome, after state senator John Whitmire’s plan to require a vote on a planned reconfiguration of the long-vacant former stadium was blocked last month? The project is still in a “design phase” that continued through the legislative session and is expected to last through the end of this year, and which includes some rather unglamorous tasks — such as verifying existing drawings and digging up the facility’s drainage pipe to see what condition it’s in. But officials won’t wait until the design phase is complete before getting estimates from construction managers. “After we get all the estimates, we’ll go back to commissioners court for approval to proceed,” county engineer John Blount tells Community Impact reporter Shawn Arrajj.
A shiny new cistern is now in place at the former Sunset Coffee building at Allen’s Landing, which Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Houston First have been redeveloping into an office-topped boat-and-bike-rental spot. The 1910 coffee roasting facility has once again donned walls after moving past a Summer 2014 minimalist phase, and is currently decked out in a muted Café du Monde orange.
The no-longer-see-through structure is back to limiting the view from the Harris County Jail across the bayou (visible on the far right, above). A set of stairs are in place alongside the new cistern, along with railings around what appears to be the planned rooftop terrace.
JUST A BUNCH OF GUYS HANGING OUT ON THE ASTRODOME ROOF Astrodome security wasn’t the tightest during the Rodeo of 2012, it appears. That’s when builder Russell Hancock snuck inside the unused stadium and sent photos of some of the sorry scenes he found there to Swamplot — sparking a spate of media interest in the long-ignored venue. But Hancock wasn’t the Astrodome’s only unauthorized visitor that year. Brewskies in hand, 4 dudes with cameraphones also snuck into the structure, though it appears they spent much of their time exploring the structure’s peripheral spaces. Over this past weekend, one of the 4 posted an album of pix from their years-ago nighttime venture, the stars of which are the explorers themselves; with blanked-out faces, they’re seen hanging out in locker rooms, hiding in ice machines, operating the scoreboard controls, and pretending to tend bar in an upper-level suite. The highlight, though, is clearly the roofwalk: “After walking around on the top floor,” the anonymous poster writes, “I decided we should try to find our way onto the roof. Not kidding at all — the first door I opened, what looked like a closet door, had a ladder in it. So of course we climbed that shit. It went up about 15 ft. to a hatch that wasn’t locked. So we popped our head out and there was the roof. To the Astrodome. It was surreal. We started to climb up the sky lights to try to get to the top, but about 20—30 ft. up we realized that was probably not the best idea.” [imgur] Photos: Astrodome713
What’s next in Astrodome beauty treatments after the unused county stadium’s powerwashing late last year? How about a little color magic? As noted by the KHOU chopper sent out to record the incident earlier this week (which produced the image above), test paint patches recently appeared at the top of the vacant structure’s walls. In concert with the removal of the eighties-add-on stair towers and the latest grime-spray efforts, the painting of a dark bluish-black color on the upper sections of wall just below the roof would help return the stadium exterior to something closer to its original 1965 appearance.
Above you see the Alice McKean Young Neighborhood Library of the near future that is going in at 5106 Griggs Rd., and the one that stands at present in the Palm Center, catty-corner across the intersection with M.L.K. Blvd. at 5260 Griggs. Dirt started flying December 19 on the $10.6 million, Perkins + Will-designed structure, which at 16,000 sq.-ft., will more than double the size of the current facility. Books will be available for checkout in Fall 2015 if all goes according to plan.
THE NEWEST PLACE TO GO DOWNTOWN A reader writes: “Until this morning I had never noticed this public restroom (really just a port-o-john with a thoughtfully labeled enclosure around it) downtown next to Tranquility Park at the corner of Rusk and Smith. Everybody knows that Swamplot is Houston’s most trusted source for breaking news about the city’s top cat 5 dump hotspots, so I figured I’d send y’all this update. I definitely feel sorry for whoever has to maintain this facility, but if the city has decided to provide a refuge for the park’s inhabitants in an attempt to discourage the use of secluded downtown doorways or parking garage stairwells, then I think it’s a great idea.” Photo: Swamplot inbox
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s new “not fully hashed out” plan for reusing the Astrodome is to turn the structure into the world’s largest indoor public park and recreation area. The park might incorporate a number of public institutions and museums within it. Plus: a pavilion for music and other events, and sports facilities such as archery ranges and hiking and biking trails, an archery center, and a large open green space. The fully air-conditioned park would be open to the public every day — except when used by the Rodeo and conferences such as the OTC.
Will Harris County citizens support turning the Astrodome into a park? Strangely, the best evidence that a majority would favor it may come from a recent survey commissioned by 2 organizations that have been trying very hard to get the building torn down.
The inside of the Astrodome has been closed to the general public since 2008, when inspectors revoked its certificate of occupancy after discovering numerous code violations. Four years later, Swamplot’s publication of reader Russell Hancock’s snuck pics of the structure’s desolate innards spurred several local reporters to request their own tours of the structure. Later, the building’s caretakers offered up a few rounds of media tours of the dilapidated stadium on their own, leading up to last November’s defeat of a bond issue that would have paid for extensive renovations to the building. In advance of the vote, and then again shortly after, the Astrodome’s seating and other furnishings were removed and put up for sale.
But since the seat sell-off, the public hasn’t had a chance to see how the inside of the vacant sports stadium appears with the earth-tone rainbows painted in plastic backrest that once lined its upper decks stripped out and sold off. What does the inside of the Astrodome look like, now that it’s a whole lot less colorful, and pretty much standing-room only?
Swamplot 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?
PROTESTORS AT DEMOLISHED SITE OF HISTORIC HOUSTON PROTESTS ENSURE REPLACEMENT STRUCTURE WON’T BE DEMOLISHED Responding to months of community pressure and protests, postal service officials today reversed course from an earlier announcement and said they will neither close nor move the Southmore Station Post Office. In March of 1960, 13 college students marched from the campus of Texas Southern University to the Weingarten’s Grocery at 4110 Almeda St. to conduct the city’s first sit-in, at the store’s whites-only lunch counter. The nonviolent protests, which lasted for weeks, led to the desegregation of all city lunch counters just a few months later, and steady movement toward the desegregation of all city facilities. The Weingarten’s building was quietly demolished sometime between 1995 and 2002 (judging from aerial photos of the site); the post office was built in its place. A plaque commemorating the sit-in, erected in 2009, stands on the sidewalk in front of the replacement building’s parking lot. The city still has plans to close or relocate the University, Greenbriar, Julius Melcher, Memorial Park, and Medical Center Station facilities, but no final decisions on them have been announced. [The Houston Advocate] Photo: Defender Network
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.
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.