03/23/15 10:00am

JUST A BUNCH OF GUYS HANGING OUT ON THE ASTRODOME ROOF Visitors to Astrodome Roof, HoustonAstrodome 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

02/11/15 12:30pm

Paint Samples, Astrodome, Houston

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.

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Sprucing
01/05/15 2:45pm

USPS NOW SAYS IT WILL CLOSE AND SELL THE HEIGHTS POST OFFICE Heights Finance Station Post Office and Notice, 1050 Yale St., Houston HeightsA new public notice taped to the door of the Heights Finance Station post office at the corner of Heights Blvd. and 11th St. last Friday indicates the U.S. Postal Service has moved on from “considering” moving out of the property and is now prepared for a full-on “disposal” action: “This property has been determined by the Postal Service to be excess and is no longer necessary for Postal operations,” reads the notice, which also indicates that “Postal Service policy requires the property to be sold at Market Value.” Though public comments are still being encouraged, it typically takes more than a few discouraging words to prevent a local post office from shutting down. The 6,161-sq.-ft. building at 1050 Yale St. sits on more than an acre of land. [Previously on Swamplot] Photos: Swamplot inbox (post office); Nick Panzarelli (notice)

10/27/14 12:00pm

THE NEWEST PLACE TO GO DOWNTOWN Public Restroom, Tranquillity Park, Rusk and Smith Streets, Downtown HoustonA 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

10/22/14 11:30am

CURIOUS POLL PUSHERS WANT TO KNOW: SHOULD THE COUNTY SPEND ANY AMOUNT IT WANTS ON AN ASTRODOME REDO? Interior of Houston AstrodomeThe last time a concrete proposal to spend public money to repurpose the Astrodome was on the ballot, Harris County taxpayers voted it down. So how hard could it be to come up with a new poll showing potential voters aren’t especially eager to shell out for the latest floated idea, to turn the public facility into a giant indoor park — about which no details, price tag, or even feel-good drawings have yet been released? Maybe harder than you might think: In stories about a survey sponsored by KHOU and Houston Public Media whose results were released yesterday, a few news outlets did produce dutiful variants of a “Taxpayers Oppose Money for Astrodome” headline. But coming to that conclusion from the actual data collected in the survey might have been a bit of a stretch. Here’s the somewhat ambiguous wording of the question presented, with no context, to likely voters in the coming election: “Harris County proposes turning the Astrodome into an indoor park. Should the taxpayers of Harris County spend any amount to make the Astrodome into an indoor park if no private investors want to fund the entire project?” 31 percent said yes, 51 percent said no, and 17 percent of respondents said they didn’t know. The subset of respondents who thought they were being asked if they’d be willing to give county government a blank check for a plan they’ve never seen wasn’t broken out separately. [Houston Chronicle; KHOU; Houston Public Media; Astrodome coverage on Swamplot] Photo: Russell Hancock

08/26/14 3:30pm

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.

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Texans and Rodeo Fans on Board?
08/25/14 3:45pm

JUDGE EMMETT SAYS HE’LL REVEAL A ‘MAJOR’ PROPOSAL FOR REUSING THE ASTRODOME TOMORROW Astrodome Interior, HoustonFor a good while now, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has been dropping hints about a new proposal to renovate the Astrodome. He’s set to reveal a few details about it tomorrow afternoon, after he holds a press conference set up in a “special little section” of the Astrodome made safe for media attendees. “Emmett has been in discussions with a series of elected officials, stakeholders and interested parties in recent weeks, laying out the general concept for an innovative reuse of the world’s first domed stadium,” a press release from the judge’s office declares. “All [the judge’s spokesperson] could tell me is that it’s ‘public use,’ tweets the Chronicle‘s Kiah Collier. [County Judge Ed Emmett; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Joe Stinebaker

08/22/14 10:00am

Interior of Astrodome with Seats Removed, Houston

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?

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The End of the Rainbows
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 2:15pm

PROTESTORS AT DEMOLISHED SITE OF HISTORIC HOUSTON PROTESTS ENSURE REPLACEMENT STRUCTURE WON’T BE DEMOLISHED Southmore Station Post Office, 4110 Almeda Rd., Southmore, HoustonResponding 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

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.
03/07/14 5:15pm

Former City of Houston Code Enforcement Building, 3300 Main St., Midtown, Houston

Former City of Houston Code Enforcement Building, 3300 Main St., Midtown, HoustonNotice anything different about the vacant former city code-enforcement building at 3300 Main St. lately? Well, go around to the Travis St. side (at left) and you’ll see it: A sign indicating the property is for sale went up there quietly last month. So quietly, in fact, that there doesn’t appear to be any information about the sale on the website of the building’s owner, the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, which purchased the full-block property from the city in a curious deal 3 years ago for $5 million, and — as a public entity — isn’t required to pay any property taxes on it. “Everything real estate wise that Midtown does is very hush hush,” notes a reader who brought the sale to Swamplot’s attention.

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Hey, Pssssst!
02/06/14 11:00am

Map of Site at 1701 Allen Pkwy., HoustonHaving completed demolitions of facilities it owned on the property, including its fleet maintenance facility at 801 Gillette St., a couple of public works buildings at 812 Gillette, and a former HPD SWAT substation at 1500 W. Dallas, the city has now listed for sale the 10-1/2-acre swath of land along Allen Pkwy between the Federal Reserve building and Allen Parkway Village. The land includes San Felipe Park at 1717 Allen Pkwy., which fronts Houston’s premiere waterfront roadway opposite Buffalo Bayou Park. Also included, apparently: Land underneath 3 streets that extend into the property: Hopson St., Bailey St., and Golf Link Pl. The listing from Cushman & Wakefield says bids are due March 14th.

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San Felipe Park and All