By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Gut the Dome of everything nonessential: Get rid of Bum Phillips's tub-sized cuspidor, Mike Scott's Scuff-o-Matic, the pile of used condoms left over from the last George Strait rodeo appearance — and transform the Dome into an exotic-game park.
The bold idea was initially misunderstood, as architects' drawings showed what looked like the world's biggest petting zoo.
"I'm not talking about PETTING these animals," Fertitta wrote in an e-mail. "I'm talking about HUNTING them."
From that point on, the AstroSafari project was full speed ahead.
Some questioned whether the Dome could support wildlife; research showed that cat-sized rats had nestled comfortably in the facility's famed Dome Skeller since it opened.
By examining financial documents, advertising brochures and RFPs (Requests for Proposals), we're able to piece together some of what is planned for AstroSafari. The unique entertainment and killing destination should, if projections prove true, be raking in more than $123.8 million a year by 2013. (If it doesn't, the county is on line to make up the difference to Fertitta, but Emmett said such a possibility "is highly unlikely" and would not involve raising any property taxes, but rather surcharges on hotel rooms, car rentals and plywood whenever a hurricane is in the Gulf.)
The documents obtained by the Press show it definitely will no longer be your daddy's Dome — unless your daddy loves danger.
The Main Concourse
For years, this narrow, airless corridor served mainly to create logjams in front of concession stands. Now, thanks to artful use of plants, lighting and humidifiers, making the circle around the Dome will transport one to the lushest, riskiest jungles of the South American rainforest.
Twenty-foot-long snakes — fattened by the Dome Skeller rats — lie in wait for the customer who lets his defenses down for even a second. (The no-fault liability form signed by all customers is two inches thick and was written by veterans of the UN's Law of the Sea Treaty.) Armed with a blunderbuss and wearing heavy armor in the 103-degree enclosed space, one relives the excitement of Pizarro's search for the magical gold city of El Dorado. The number of deadly mammals, insects and fish — all of whom can kill a man with little to no warning — is estimated to be in the dozens. On the other hand, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from surviving the experience — maybe even coming home with enough snakeskin to make a handful of fine boots — is something unavailable anywhere else in the Greater Houston area, with the possible exception of the old Sharpstown Mall.
You must be over 48 inches tall to attempt the Rain Forest Run. Vaccines are available at a reduced price for those who sign up; antidotes (market price) are available for those whose luck or skill abandons them on their journey.
Overpriced, watery Cokes and beers are still available in the same concourse locations as before. Visitors are advised, however, that the pythons have developed a taste for Dome Dogs.
The Floor of the Dome
What was once cheap plastic grass is now lush emerald veldt, an enchanting world where nature rules. The only place on earth where Bengal Tigers and African Lions roam free together, the sacred spot where Earl Campbell once plowed through Dolphins on Monday Night Football is now an arena where only the strongest truly survive.
The deluxe $13,500 "Bwana" package offers a chance to cruise the floor in an impregnable titanium mini-tank armed with an M2 .50-caliber machine gun and an MK19 .40-mm grenade launcher, as used in the U.S. Army's Stryker armored combat vehicle. For $39.95 (with coupon or Coca-Cola bottletop), a "Junior Bwana" package offers a handgun and some Off spray. Visitors are advised to choose wisely.
(County Judge Emmett, when asked if the "Junior Bwana" package might possibly endanger customers, said pricing was "all about choice," while emphasizing that the less-expensive package "does include mosquito repellent.")
The location of the old Dome dugouts is now a watering hole for elephants, dubbed Tusk Town. Customers are strictly limited in the amount of ivory they may take home: One can take only what one can transport off the floor, another incentive for taking the full "Bwana" package with its sturdy vehicle. Ivory from dead elephants that cannot be carried off the floor will be sold through Black Markets R Us, with Fertitta and the county splitting the profits 90-10.
Those who traverse the floor are encouraged to head to the south ramp of the Dome. There, animals that did not attract sufficient bids at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are set free from their loathsome confinement, with the encouragement of cattle prods. The ensuing demonstration of what scientists call "The Food Chain" is said to be a wonder to behold.
Breathes there the hunter whose heart quickens not at the thought of Africa or South America? Perhaps.
And so AstroSafari will offer a more Texas kind of attraction, located in what used to be the loge seats: The Cheney Chamber of Horrors.
It's Lone Star State hunting — with a twist. Currently anyone, as we all know, can go to some luxurious ranch where the hired help directs the birds, or the deer or the whatever to wander slowly across your line of fire: Where's the thrill of that?