There was one point in my life where I probably spent two-thirds of each year at the Astrodome. I’d be in the video booth handling graphics for Astros games, or playing back replays for Oilers and University of Houston games. I’d be down on the floor dodging bulls and monster trucks, trying to keep the camera cables out of the way while being prepared to pull the handheld-camera guy to safety.
I still remember when I took my bar exam at the now demolished Astro Hall. And how, during the lunch break, I walked over to the Dome and went to the video board booth. My boss left the door unlocked for me, and I was able walk inside, sit down, gaze out over the baseball field and relax for a bit in that type of calm that one can only experience inside a stadium on game day.
Let's flash forward 24 years. The Astrodome is now a relic, replaced by a behemoth of a football stadium and a baseball stadium. And in all of that time, knowing that something needs to be done about the Astrodome, the great minds that run Houston and Harris County have still not come up with a plan that will legitimately save it without turning it into a huge financial drain for taxpayers. But that doesn’t mean they have stopped trying to figure out ways to put the building to use. And the latest idea is something the folks who put on those Pink Floyd laser shows would love. (Also: Do they even still have Pink Floyd laser shows?)
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Harris County commissioners court, last month, voted to spend $65,000 on a study to determine just how much it would actually cost to use the Dome roof to project a giant light show for the Super Bowl in February. Now, $65,000 is not really that big of a deal, especially when compared to some of the other ideas regarding the Dome that the county has chased. Still, it's a lot of money to spend for studying the feasibility of something that the Burke Baker Planetarium used to offer on a weekly basis.
But here’s the deal: At some point, the county officials have to decide what they're going to do with the Astrodome. Especially seeing as how elections regarding the matter have essentially been ignored. And especially seeing as how it’s now 20 years since Drayton McLane issued his build-a-new-stadium-or-the-Astros-are-gone demand.
That makes for 20 years that the Astrodome has been a dead man walking. Twenty years since it was called a dump, and labeled as obsolete by the city and county bodies that are now telling everybody that it’s an architectural marvel that must be preserved at all cost, no matter how nonsensical the plan might be. Sure, the future of the Astrodome is something that should have been considered at the time the city and the county were caving in to every demand of McLane’s, but at that time, people were too busy trashing it to think about the future.
The truth is that the Astrodome is an architectural wonder. It truly is a one-of-a-kind stadium, which is something that can be said for no other sports arena in Houston. And when the Astros departed for downtown Houston, the thought process should have immediately been about renovating the Dome and putting it to its best use. But that’s not what happened.
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Instead, the Texans came along and got a gigantic aircraft hangar with no personality and a roof that fell apart the first time a hurricane hit it. If real thought had gone into the situation, if there had been some real planning, then there’s no reason to think that the Astrodome could not have been renovated for the Texans. Sure, there might not have been a retractable roof, but how many times is the NRG Stadium roof ever opened? It can be one of Houston’s rare gorgeous fall days when everything is perfect, and the roof will be closed. And what do the Texans play on — an artificial turf.
So the Texans play in a ripoff of the Astrodome under the same conditions as the Oilers, in a building that cost a ton of cash, when instead, with maybe some forethought and creative planning, the Astrodome could still be a viable building, and not a rotting hulk wasting away while city and county officials try to figure out what to do with it. And seriously, there has to be something better than lining up a Pink Floyd laser show for the roof of the Dome.
I haven’t been inside the Astrodome since 2001. I haven’t been invited inside for any of the media tours that have been held over the years. But no matter what happens, I still have all those memories of the Astrodome, and of my years working there. I got to watch Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell as rookies, and experience the shock-and-awe of the Jack Pardee Houston Cougars, and the continued playoff disappointments of the Oilers. And it’s that place where, for a few hours in July 1992, I was able to escape and relax in the midst of the Texas Bar Exam.
So come on. It’s been 20 years. Come up with a viable plan, or let’s tear it down. Stop wasting money, and stop letting it waste away.