HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Astrodome's obituary may have been written when voters rejected a $217 million bond proposal to renovate it, but some Harris County commissioners who will decide its ultimate fate said Wednesday it's possible that burial for the city's landmark structure is still some time away, if it comes at all.
"It's anybody's guess now," Steve Radack, one of the five members of the Harris County Commissioners Court, said. And a quick decision or start to the demolition of the world's first air-conditioned domed stadium, dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World"?
"That's not going to happen," Radack said. "We will wait to see what the consensus of Commissioners Court is before we decide what to do with the Dome," another commissioner, El Franco Lee, said. Harris County residents voted 53 to 47 percent Tuesday to reject a referendum that would have authorized bonds to turn the former home of pro baseball's Houston Astros and pro football's Houston Oilers into a giant convention and event center.
"We can't allow the once-proud Astrodome to sit like a rusting ship in the middle of a parking lot. This was the best effort (to revamp the stadium), and voters have turned it down," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who chairs the county governing board, said Tuesday night as the outcome became clear. "Commissioners Court will have to make a decision on where to go from here."
The panel's next scheduled session is next week. "Unless it's very much out of the blue, I would not expect any action," Commissioner Jack Morman said Wednesday. "But I would say in the near future, maybe in the next couple of months.
"This was the best alternative we were presented with to avoid demolition," he said. "Is there another Plan B feasible? No." Still, he said demolition, while now the "only alternative" before the panel, may be likely but not immediate.
Studies in recent years have estimated that the cost of demolishing the Astrodome to be as much as $78 million. Radack said he understood it would cost about $20 million to fill the hole left behind. "I think the dome has served its purpose, but I'll say this: I'm not going to support tearing it down and then covering the hole with $20 million in dirt and a parking lot," he said. "If that's all, it can just stand there."
Even while still standing, some $8 million worth of work is continuing to get rid of asbestos and remove old ticket booths and parapet-like walkways on the outside edge of the stadium. Besides MLB and NFL games, the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was held under the 208-foot-high roof, along with concerts and other events such as the 1992 Republican National Convention.
But the Astrodome hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009. The rodeo's home is now next door at the more modern Reliant Stadium, where the NFL's Houston Texans also play. Reliant Stadium was the site of the 2004 Super Bowl and will host the game again in 2017.
"I know we'd like to see resolution and something done before the Super Bowl in 2017, whether demolition or rehabilitation or whatever it may be," Morman said. "It's not a deal breaker." While structurally sound, the Astrodome has fallen into disrepair. Its most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"Believe me, you're going to have a whole lot of people who have a lot to say how historic it is," Radack said. "The whole thing will recycle again with the same arguments that were occurring." But he said thousands of people who have moved into the booming Houston area don't have an emotional connection to the structure, while others don't want to pay higher taxes to keep it.
"All this big attachment people claim to have, and I'm sure some do, you can see it doesn't translate into big groundswell of support," Radack said. "That's for sure."