Is "Rebuild and They Will Come" Really the Best Strategy for the Astrodome Rehab?

Rebuild it...and maybe they'll invest?
Rebuild it...and maybe they'll invest?

"If you build it, they will come" might be a great line for a Kevin Costner movie. But when it comes to renovating the Astrodome, one would hope that Harris County officials could come up with a better plan, especially considering that the Astrodome is, well, already built.

But this is the Astrodome, and when it comes to the Dome and county officials, logic apparently goes out the window. Because despite voters' saying no on renovation plans, and despite the lack of private investors coming forward to offer funding, the county keeps pushing plans to try to save the facility made obsolete by Drayton McLane, Bud Adams and Bob McNair.

The current concept involves a repurposing of the Dome that envisions a conservancy along the lines of the one running Discovery Green. The public-private hybrid would then see the Dome turned into an indoor park with six stories of retail space above ground level.

Now Harris County commissioners have tasked county engineers with determining the viability of raising the floor of the Dome 30 feet, to where it was at ground level, and whether it’s more cost-efficient to turn the space beneath that floor into a two-story parking garage or make it underground storage. The thought is that, if the stadium’s functional, those involved will suddenly find a way to put the building to use.

“This has nothing to do with [what] goes on above the ground level,” County Judge Ed Emmett said to the media earlier this week. “But if we just get phase one under way, it sends a clear signal that the Dome is going to be back in a useful life.”

But really, hasn’t that been the clear signal coming from Harris County officials for years? They insist the Dome’s not going to be torn down and that it’s going to be renovated. The signal coming from Emmett's office has always been that as long as there's a halfway legitimate plan for it, the Dome will be put to use. What signal are we getting now? Is it that nobody can actually come up with a semi-legitimate plan for the Dome’s use because no viable plan can involve shutting off access to the Astrodome for weeks at a time when the Rodeo or the Texans need the place?

“My first goal is to put the Dome into usable condition, whether it be for the Rodeo for their food court or the Offshore Technology Conference, or for festivals, gatherings or merely for picnickers in the park," Emmett said. “The Dome’s a building. We can’t just leave a building sitting there unusable.”

Translated, that essentially means, "Let's spend money rehabbing the place, then hope against all hope that some sucker from the private sector will come along and do what none of them have been willing to do so far: to finally invest money in the thing." Sure, nobody’s lining up to do it now, but now that the county is showing that this time it’s really, really serious (does that mean it hasn’t been serious in the past?), private investors are going to storm Harris County Commissioners Court just begging for the county to take their money.

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Now raising the floor would, if the parking lot option is chosen, allow for the parking of about 1,200 cars. This would be, of course, a win-win for the Texans and the Rodeo, who have seemingly been trying to get more parking in place of the Astrodome since the opening of NRG Stadium. And Emmett mentions that one of the uses of the Dome with the raised floor would be as a location for the Rodeo’s carnival rides.

Still, there are no real new details. The public-private hybrid plan from last year that would see the place turned into another Discovery Green-type park still appears to be the primary plan. And it still appears that there is, as of yet, no private investment coming, which means that whole hybrid public-private plan is still just a public plan — though the county keeps saying it really wants private funding to handle a majority of the costs.

But don’t worry about any of that. Because just like Kevin Costner turning all that corn into a baseball field after being told to build it by voices in his head, the elected officials of Harris County are apparently gearing up to rebuild the Astrodome. Though “rebuild it and maybe they’ll invest” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

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