Judge Emmett’s New Plan To Turn the Astrodome Into the World’s Largest Indoor Park Has Surprise Allies

Astrodome Interior Minus Seats, Houston

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.


Survey on Reuse of Astrodome, HoustonCraftily labeling a recent demolition proposal an “Astrodome reuse plan,” a survey released last week found 55 percent of Harris County residents would favor a plan described as “a proposal for a private/public financed reuse of the NRG Astrodome site that would be similar to Discovery Green in downtown Houston,” and that would include a visitor’s center and museum complex and a central green space. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Houston Texans, which commissioned the web-based survey, chose that description for their own plan to demolish the dome.

Photo: Dusty Vandenberg. Survey: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Texans and Rodeo Fans on Board?

67 Comment

  • Great plan…just make sure that water facilities and sports facilities are garunteed.

  • A good idea in concept. If could be great, or it could be terrible depending on final design and programming elements.

  • Talk is cheap, and this is garbage. Completely worthless and stupid, especially when “presented” without any cost analysis research or estimates.
    Who was it that said the Astrodome should be converted into a center to talk about what to do with the Dome? That looks about right.

  • There will be spaces for archery, Jai alai, curling and Buzkashi.

  • Good idea. Give the dome back to the people and get it out of the hands of the rodeo klan crowd.

  • “Rather than try to convert the Dome into something it was never intended to be, I think it is time to look back to the original vision of Judge Hofheinz” – Judge Emmet

    Excellent. Back to a baseball park it is then.

  • 1) Why does Judge Emmett get any say in this process?

    2) Who would pay for the monster electricity costs of such a facility?

    3) The plan sounds unfocused and confusing, why would I travel over to the middle of nowhere to go to an ‘indoor park’? How many museums could they realistically sign up to be there?

  • I love this idea and would be willing to pay more taxes for it if needed. It would benefit everyone including visitors and events at NRG. Best idea yet and I’m shocked the County is actually game for this.

  • Connect it to the Braes Bayou bike trail! Houston needs a hill to train on.

  • This idea is so lame sorry $10 parking to goto a park no thanks. I would like to see the dome turned into a Movie studio Casino or Indoor Theme Park

  • One step closer to indoor ski mountain. They’ll figure it out eventually.

  • I thought the judge did not want any plans without funding, where is the funding?

  • Sounds like a nice recreation center for MARS..in 200 years when it is colonized….just think a nice place to get out and stretch your legs…….Earth 2014, I’m not so sure.

  • Green space? Does he know anything about the history of the dome? Uh, they tried to go grass and could not thus they invented a little thing called…..AstroTurf. And uh, who exactly is going to pay for this “Conversion”. I cannot believe he is the County Judge, he is about the stupidest person on the planet. A real booby, as Mary Crawley would say.

  • How can it be open to the public when you have to pay to enter Reliant Park. Are they just going to let random people wonder around NRG Stadium and the complex. Hobos and vagrants sleeping and urinating on the “green space”. Too funny. Have they thighs this hair brained scheme out at all? It sounds utterly ridiculous and I’m a supporter of preserving the dome. I like the idea of striping it to the steel and having an open air green space and just having the outline of its hulk, but that’s probably not feasible either. I’ve really never heard of a stadium this size being repurposed and now I see why.

  • I don’t understand. I thought taxpayer $ was to only be used if it helped rich ppl get richer. This ‘available to everyone’ idea sounds dangerous. This plan sticks of poor.

  • lhd “Good idea. Give the dome back to the people and get it out of the hands of the rodeo klan crowd.”
    Unless I’m missing your point, that comment seems pretty disgusting and one I’m surprised made it past moderation.

  • Thank you, Judge Emmett … all we want is an honest attempt to come up with a new concept for reusing the dome, and you have given us that chance. Problems will arise and naysayers will complain until a realistic use is envisioned that utilizes this treasure, but there will be one if one really looks for it with an open mind ….

  • Finally some much-needed relief to the huge unmet archery demand in Houston.

  • @WR–are you kidding me, dude? Who’s going to pay 10 dollars to go to a “park”. How are you going to plant grass in the Astrodome? Who’s going to pay the absurd electric bill? What kind of “museum” would build here? He had zero specifics, it was incredible unprofessional, just a Hail Mary for political cover. Bush league boiler plate you’d expect in a rural small county like Chambers not a massive country like Harris. It’s a disgrace really, I mean, is this really the best he can do??? pathetic— and for you to praise him for this assine idea is unbelievable, I can only assume you’re family, it’s the only explanation.

  • @Shannon: Grass grew in the dome when the ceiling panels were clear. That was the original design. AstroTurf was used after it became apparent that a baseball couldn’t be tracked against the ceiling without painting the panels white, thus reducing the sunlight and killing the grass.
    Don’t you know anything about the history of the dome?

  • A stupid, expensive idea presented without numbers for good reason. The area isn’t desirable.

  • I hear treasures is looking for a new inner loop location.

  • A process and a plan start with a vision. Speculate on motives all you want. It would be great to see Houston do something bold and extravagant again. An air conditioned park that confronts the characterization that we live in an inhospitable summer climate is a unique concept. BTW there are several parks around the country that levy a use fee. They should tie it into the bayou trails and link it to Herman Park. Separate entrances, monitored and patrolled can be designed to accommodate park only traffic.

  • I know all about the dome. I know the glare was unbearable that’s why they painted some of the skylights. They also couldn’t keep it chilled in the summer because the glare made the building extremely warm. I can only imaging what the electric bill would be if they had clear tiles on the roof. Please don’t lecture me on the Astrodome.

  • Sell the dome for scrap and put a used car lot on the land. This is the Houston I know.

  • world’s largest indoor park? more like world’s least needed and inaccessible park. for the same money taxpayers would be forced to dump on this waste we could build one of the world’s truly premier parks just a short distance up the road with Hermann park, and there’s actually a lot of other things you can do at Hermann park that the astrodome area couldn’t even begin to touch in comparison. this idea is so vague, unnecessary and an obvious waste of taxpayers money that they really are hitting their heads against the wall with this one.
    anyone have the running count on how much the astrodome has cost Houston taxpayers since it’s inception?

  • I think this is a brilliant idea. Houston really needs something like this. The Houston weather makes it really hard to go outside and enjoy a day at the park. This would be a great place for the whole family to enjoy together and not have to be subjected to Houston’s swealtering heat.

  • @Shannon: It’s OK to admit when you’re wrong. Good people respect that. You’re wrong about the grass and about keeping it cold in summer.
    If you’d like to learn more about the history of the Astrodome, I recommend James Gast’s book “The Astrodome: Building an American Spectacle”. It was previously featured here on Swamplot (http://swamplot.com/building-the-biggest-living-room-in-the-world/2014-07-23/) and is a great read.

  • DUMB idea. Political posturing at its best. Emmet lost my vote.

    The only realistic use is to turn it into an outdoor Amphitheatre for concerts, an alternative to the Woodlands. Rodeo would benefit form this too. NRG Arena needs to be replaced sooner or later.

    Otherwise turn it into a greenspace for Texans/Rodeo/Super Bowl.

  • Why are there such scant details? I might love the idea or I might hate it, but right now I’m really not sure.

  • Paying for parking wouldn’t really be a problem. Most savvy Houstonians just park near the light rail and use it to get to Reliant — that’s what we all do for the Rodeo, isn’t it? As for the idea of having to pay to enter, just put a water park in there and no one will complain about having to pay to get in. It’ll be the perfect public space during the summer.

  • At first I thought his was a terrible idea but then I thought of all the times I wished there were an indoor running track here in Houston. It’d be like an indoor Memorial park.

  • I would pay $20 to visit this park. Imagine going for a run and not feeling like you’re standing in front of an oven door (yes please)! Forget the gym!

    I’m interested in more details of this plan, including the museums, and I also wonder how parking would work or if there would be access from the streets surrounding NRG Park.

    And it’s totally ok to not like this plan, but some of the comments on here are toxic. Go comment on the CHRON, they’ll welcome you with open arms.

  • @bag. You don’t think the grass died because of the painted over panals? Have you ever seem pics of the glare when they first opened the dome, it was blinding and even then the grass didn’t do all that well. I’ll pick up that book, it sounds interesting and I’m all about seeking knowledge, but lose the lecture.

  • I can’t believe all the people on here objecting to an indoor park. This is a disgustingly hot and humid city that was conquered by refrigeration. We should embrace that and celebrate it because it has allowed business to flourish. I can think of fewer cities that have a worse climate in August than Houston. Perhaps Calcutta. I’m sure they would love an indoor park.

  • You know, if you take the rail to the Dome it’s free to enter NRG. Also, has anyone considered the possibility that they may lower or eliminate parking fees for park attendees? Also, let’s remember that an energy company’s name will be all over this, so quit complaining about air conditioning bills. They naysayers prove that there are a lot of people who have opinions, but no vision.

  • In all due respects to Ed Emmett’s plan I have to wonder if they will be installing plastic grass, fake trees, and shrubs. Nothing can grow in the Astrodome, so what kind of park is he talking about. I also wonder how many people will be willing to pay the parking fees to go look at plastic flora and brave the heat to get inside this facility. I’m willing to listen to suggestions but so far almost everyone of them lacks the kind of creativity that would solve all of the inherent problems that are to be faced in any repurposing of this stadium as it stands now.
    First the logistics of getting into the building would make most patients that need to have fresh air who are staying in the medical center as he suggests think twice. Would they deliver them with their oxygen bottles and carts in ambulances. Would they have special drop off points designated for the asthmatics so that they wouldn’t have to walk halfway across that sprawling concrete parking lot just to get to the ticket booth. This facility would cost a lot of money to overhaul and maintain so they would have to charge admission. Really I’m going to pay $12.00 dollars to park, walk for 20 minutes in the heat and rain to pay the entry fee so I can play horseshoes. Give me a break. The medical center is across the street from a beautiful newly rejuvenated city park. World class museums are within a mile and are air conditioned. Go back to the drawing board Ed!

  • Visitors and tourists would flock to a re-purposed Astrodome that would now be the world’s largest air-conditioned indoor park, and that might just spur a CityCentre-like development on the old AstroWorld plot since they’d need hotels and retail to accommodate them. As it stands, the only place I can send visitors to during the summer is the Galleria mall so they don’t die from heat stroke.

  • The comments here serve as a great reminder that most of us are totally at odds with their environment in any form of extreme weather. Yes it can be uncomfortable in Houston in August but try to adjust. Do things which aren’t stupid things to do in August like running 3 times around Memorial park at 3 pm (I know idiots who do this). I can do quite a few things in the the summer outside and enjoy what the heat has to offer but one of those things will not be to train for a marathon. Seek a pool, wait till the evening and then run a little less, go to your gymn, get an outdoors fan and sit on your patio and enjoy a cold drink. I don’t hear any of you crying about the weather here in November when it’s beautiful and when the only thing you could’ve done outside back in your home state is shovel snow.

  • People who say that an indoor park would succeed are delusional. People who say they’d pay $20 to visit are, too. $20 every weekend? Or just $20 when you go once every 5 years? No amusement park or attraction costs $20 to enter anyway. Furthermore, if it’s a local park, why would I pay to go? Parks are “free” (in the sense that you are not charged admission to enter). What the judge is proposing is something a private firm should handle, not something paid for and further maintained by tax dollars. Would I want my tax dollars to pay for the electricity bill of this monster? No.
    An indoor air-conditioned green space is laughable. When I go to a park, I want to see grass , trees, and flowers – not fake greenery or office plants. I’m not a huge fan of the Houston summers especially when mosquitoes devour me, but if I’m outdoors, I’d 100% slather on the bug spray and head over to Hermann Park. With the redevelopment of the rose gardens, Hermann Park will be an even more awesome park. It’s also located in an area with legitimate points of interest. If I’m looking for an air-conditioned place to run or workout, I go to the YMCA.
    The Astrodome may have been worth saving before it fell into such disrepair. Not enough people cared about it until there were discussions to tear it down. Once it became a huge POS, people were hellbent on saving it. Doesn’t make any sense.

  • @Shannon: Yes, the grass died because they painted the panels. That’s what I just wrote. The original idea was to have an entirely clear roof, but the acoustics would have been unbearable. Then they went to clear sky light panels set in an opaque roof. Grass grew under those, but ball players could not track a fly ball against the contrasting pattern of bright and dark during day games. That’s when they painted the panels white, and that’s when the grass died.
    I promise I’ll try to only lecture you when you lecture others and are wrong at the same time.

  • This is clearly a grasp at an idea for a scheme of a plan. I have serious doubts that it could work.
    However, I would love it. Ever since I was a kid the Dome felt like an outer space colony habitat. Remember “Silent Running” with Bruce Dern? Getting rid of all the spectator sport stuff and going full sci-fi with it would delight me to no end. Add a bike trail on top of that? I’d be in ecstasy. I’d be riding my bike up and down that mo-fo day in and day out.
    I know I’m in a tiny minority of people. But maybe there are a few of us out there. Kids who grew up when Houston was Space City, when the boom seemed like it would go on forever, when outrageous ideas like an air conditioned park weren’t reflexively poo-pooed.

  • More is currently owed on the dome than was spent to build it in 1964, probably twice as much if not more when adjusted for inflation. Call on the HLSR committee to pay for its demolition and pave over the hole in the ground. The Dome is a white elephant whose purpose has been served and its time has expired.

    Advanced civilizations bury their dead. Hold a blow-up party like they did for the Texas Stadium in Irving so everyone can pay their last respects and witness the implosion of the one-time Eighth Wonder Of The World.

    I won’t even mention how its legacy was forever tarnished by former Mayor Bill White treating it like a homeless shelter.

  • Emmett was extremely clear several months ago when ideas were solicited from the public where he required funding to be included with any proposal; otherwise, it would not warrant consideration. The same rules MUST apply to him and his proposals. As the ex-facto CEO for Harris County, Emmett should no better than to sail this one past the people he represents.

    This smells of a plan from someone who has no clue what he really envisions the Dome to be for the next 100 years. Shannon raises a great point. Who will pay to cool this large space? That’s not the only thing to worry about either. Emmett has 38 different ideas to include under this roof. What happens every time someone realizes that a space is not used to its maximum efficiency? Oh, I think I know….. A new bond issue would have to be voted on to “re-purpose the re-purposed space”. Long after Emmett is gone from his role as County Judge, Ed’s legacy will take a bite out of your income, year after year after year. Think long and hard about that legacy.

    Emmett has said numerous times that he cannot foresee the Dome being torn down on his watch. This latest proposal is a like the midway at the State Fair. Let’s design one of everything and see what sticks so Ed won’t get any blood any his hands during his administration.

    Here’s an idea. Tear down the Dome and fill in the hole with water, call it Dome Lake, the city’s official swimming pool, complete with a sandy beach and palm trees. Everyone pays to park and you get to go for a swim and reminisce about the good ol’ days drinking Dome Foam.

  • I like the idea, despite its vagueness. The world’s largest indoor park, under the iconic Astrodome, and tropical trees and plants could grow there making it a unique setting in Houston and probably the world. A little along the lines of Moody Garden and maybe have some howler monkeys in the trees. And the idea of having a jogging trail is a good one. But charging $/paying for it is the problem….unless it is simply amazing and mind-blowing and becomes a slam-dunk tourist attraction.

  • dag:
    1. it’s the harris county domed stadium, the county is in charge.
    2. we already pay the monstrous energy bill.
    3. lots of people would. You may choose to sit in your house and watch TV all day, but others do like to go out.
    Once again, you prove your ignorance of history. The astrodome, once upon a time had transparent roof panels, they used real grass on the field, outfielders complained of glare from the sun coming through the roof, so they painted the roof panels so they were translucent, almost opaque. at that point, not enough light was getting in, the grass died, and astroturf was invented.

  • @Memebag…be wary of going against shannon his swamplot overlords will punish you

  • Bob
    Dynamo Chelsea,
    Have you walked from the train station to the dome? Its a very long walk. NRG is not going to pay the electric bill for a county park. You and I will, along with the millions that it will take to refurbish and implement Ed’s plan.
    For as much time as they’ve had to come up with a really sound solution this is pathetic.
    Ed said that whoever was chosen to develop this would have to provide the funds, and that would be the county in this case, meaning all of us.
    One of his other suggestions was to make it a venue for concerts. Obviously Ed never went to any concerts in the dome. It was terrible. The acoustics suck! And so does Ed’s plan. The best plan so far was the monument to the Dome by the Architecture student. Just leave the steel frame as a memorial. Make it a tailgate area and animal pen during the rodeo and everyone that has any real say should be satisfied. Ed is beginning to sound like a flim flam man. “76 trombones led the big parade”

  • I actually like the general idea (devil/details) of climate controlled indoor green space with multiple uses. But, the space would basically be off limits to the general public during most of March for the Rodeo. It would be off limits to the general public every other Sunday in the fall (and possibly winter pending a miracle) for football. And then there is Grand Prix Houston, fill in the blank college bowl game, and OTC. All of those pretty much shut down the whole area around the dome. So, you would end up with a very expensive attraction that was only accessible to the general public 30 odd weekends out of the year and only accessible to rodeo patrons for all of March.

  • People want more bike trails so they can get sweaty. And people may get an air-conditioned ‘park’ so they won’t sweat. Only in Houston.

  • It’s August and everyone is sick of the heat. Nobody is thinking how unappealing it would seem to visit this place the 7 months of the year where its nice to be outside.

  • for the cost of re-purposing this boondoggle, we could build 40-60 brand new neighborhood parks that would probably have a utilization factor 10 times whatever could come out of this. if you’re at all serious about improving this city then we need to get our heads out of the clouds and think realistically. don’t let other people put on dog and pony shows with our taxpayer money.
    would love the headlines though, america’s fattest city builds largest indoor park. we’d be an international laughing stock.

  • I listened to His Highness Ed on 610AM. What a clown, he doesn’t even believe his own, unconvincing, drivel.

  • The building belongs to the taxpayers of Harris County who financed the building of the facility in the 1960′s.

    The building is on the National Registry of Historic Sites. It is structurally sound. And it is completely paid for.

    Look at Atlanta and the Falcons attempt to build a larger football stadium. They would love to push the taxpayers of Georgia around and help them finance the costs of a 800 million dollar stadium. And all of this at the demise a fully functioning modern stadium complex, that was also built upon the backs of the citizenry.

    Houston, don’t make the same mistake, and destroy that which belongs to taxpayers of the Houston metro area.

    Save the Astrodome!

  • Rick it’s not paid for. We owe millions on the debt and to just get it up to code for people allowed in the building would cost more millions. That’s before any of these hair brain ideas are added.

  • @ Bob: The Astrodome is paid for. Public debt was issued to pay for it, and the County is saddled with that debt whether or not the Astrodome is torn down (costs money), mothballed indefinitely (costs money), or re-used (costs money). The costs to build and to finance later renovations are a sunk cost. It is not part of the financial calculus for what we should do about it going forward.

  • Why the frick does “judge” Ed Emmet get t o set the agenda for the Dome? We, the VOTERS & TAXPAYERS voted to TEAR the rust bucket down. Yet, here is ‘judge” Emmett (aka Another Lame Douchbag Politician”) being the whore for the architect / builder/ contractor / designer / engineer community AKA special interests. The TAXPAYERS still owe approximately $40 million for bonds Harris County floated to keep the Oilers here. That didn’t work out.. And this douchebag Emmett wants the TAXPAYERS/ VOTERS to support his “vision” ? Which is totally a non starter. Build a CASINO ,Movie Studio or Indoor Theme Park with PRIVATE financing. NO public monies involved !!! or No way. DON’T TRUST any politician. Especially when he contradicts his own rules about any Dome plan must have financing. He didn’t mention that detail .Because Ed Emmett is crafting a SLEAZY / SHADY back room deal that = TAXPAYER funds are tapped once again. NO cost analysis research or estimates !! These dull,drone pols couldn’t visualize an ORIGINAL idea if God sent it down to them from on High…

  • What we owe on the Oiler dome expansion certainly plays into this redevelopment calculus. The voters remember all that money spent to ruin the dome for Bud Adams. To say this doesn’t play into the end game for the dome is obtuse. I see no way this idea will pass muster with the Harris County electorate. It’s naive to think that this redevelopment issue is a singular issue void of debt from previous expansion. All that matters is perspective and from the prospective of the voter, we still owe on the dome so why spend more money on it. I agree I thought the voters spoke clearly on the future of the dome. It’s a waste of time to continue to spin these ridiculous ideas in order to try to placate the pro dome crowd before you ultimately tear it down to please the anti dome crowd. I love the Astrodome, but it’s time to tear it down, maybe save the hull for an open air park, but it can’t remain as it is now. If this were a loved one you’d pull the plug.

  • I like the idea. Let’s figure out how to implement it. It’s basically the same plan that the Rodeo and the Texans came up with, if you substitute “enclosed” for “open air” “Discovery Green-type park.” We need more park space and we need more creative ways to deal with the heat and humidity that our city has become famous the World over for. We don’t need another convention center. People love the Cockrell Butterfly Center, and things grow in there. Grass did okay in the Astrodome until they painted the roof. Talk about a visitor attraction. People can and will come out to see the World’s first domed stadium AND enjoy the World’s largest indoor park. Let’s do it!

  • Apparently, HLSR, UH-HCPP, and Rice-Baker Institute don’t know how to make a decent graph. “Support / Oppose / Neither”? I’m not sure I could make that more confusing if I tried. I could come up with three better graphs than that.

  • @Shannon, @Bob:

    Can you two explain to me why you state we still owe money on the Dome when the county itself says, “All debts, bonds, etc., specifically attributed to the Astrodome have been paid and the taxpayers owe nothing on the facility”?

    Is there some kind of budgetary trickery I’m missing here?

  • It seems to depend on who you talk with or what mechanics they’re using to assess the debt on whether the Astrodome is indeed debt free. Let’s say for arguements sake that it is, well you still have upkeep and the price of chilling it and the price of this hare brained “scheme”. The Judge said, he’s accept no proposals that don’t come with finding mechanisms, so what does he do? He has a press conference to announce some pie in the sky scheme with absolutely no mention of how in the hell he plans to pay for it. It’s like he’s brain dead. What museum is going to go in here? How much will parking cost? Who pays to go to a park? Will it have real grass? Who will pay the electric bill? The unkept? Will you be able to wonder all over Reliant Park? Do you really think tourist will flock to indoor Jai Lai? This is so stupid, it’s pathetic. I mean, WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS? Do you really think Private Investment will pay for this? Yeah, right!

  • Shannon, ‘who pays to go to a park?’ you’ve never been to discovery green.
    Sure, there’s on street parking that’s free sundays, and after 7pm on weekdays and saturday, but any other day of the week that on street parking isn’t free. parking in a lot around the park is not free. parking in the garage under the park is not free.
    that park is continually filled, the parking lot under it is continually filled, the street parking is continually full.
    People have shown a happy ability to pay for parking to attend a park.
    Who pays for upkeep? compared to every other park? I assume you think that all these other parks just magically stay in the exact same state all the time?
    Did you know that the Kinder family donated $50 million towards the Houston park service last year? Private investment from companies may be slim, and I’d agree ‘yeah right!’ is a solid statement, but private philanthropy? Half of the streets in Houston are named after philanthropic Houstonians. Cullen, Kirby, etc.

  • Well if Richard Kinder will pay for all of this scheme and pay the upkeep and electric bills and create an endowment to cover the parking fees etc. I’m sure Harris County voters will support that. Thanks Richard!