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METRO is currently seeking some public input on replacing the Reliant Park light-rail stop’s outdated moniker.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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THE ASTRODOME’S FIRST SOLUTION TO ITS CAN’T-SEE-THE-BALL PROBLEM Before players had that problem losing fly balls in the glare, before a portion of the skylights were painted over, before anyone in Houston had ever considered replacing the outfield grass with something called AstroTurf, there was another system installed in the Astrodome meant to help baseball players keep their eyes on the ball. The Houston Chronicle‘s special section on the Harris County Domed Stadium — on the occasion of its 50th anniversary (today) and birthday party open house (tonight) — includes a reprint (PDF) of the same newspaper’s Astrodome extra from April 8, 1965, the day before opening day. And featured on page 62 is a short preview of the stadium’s space-age air-cleaning technology: “An unusual Honeywell-engineered ultraviolet sensor will run a continual check on the transparency of the air. If it gets murky — from dust or tobacco smoke — the system will signal stadium engineers to open a battery of cupola exhaust dampers.
Because air cleaners continuously scrub the air electronically, then pass it through special charcoal filters to sieve out any odors, air inside the stadium normally will be fresher and cleaner than the air outside. ‘In fact, it should be the cleanest air in all Texas,‘ says Lamar Bordelon, Honeywell project engineer on the stadium job.
The Honeywell system has an ultraviolet lamp underneath the seats along the third-base line, focused on an ultraviolet sensor in similar position along the first-base line, 700 feet across the stadium. These continuously indicate the transparency of the air between them on a meter located on the control center. Any time the transparency of the air drops to the point where a player would have a hard time seeing a baseball in play 350 feet away, a warning light flashes on.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Russell Hancock
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