Save the Dome: Judge Ed Emmett Calls Rodeo/Texans Green Space Plan "Silly"

In better days.
In better days.
Photo by Jeff Balke

According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, County Judge Ed Emmett has no desire to see a recent plan put forth on the part of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Houston Texans put into place. The plan would demolish the "Eighth Wonder of the World" and replace it with an open green space and a Hall of Fame surrounded by a "fence" made of pieces of the existing Dome's structure. They even provided some nifty renderings including a Photoshopped ESPN set and hosts with the, let's call it an Astro Park, in the background, clearly hinting that a decision needs to be made quickly with the 2017 Super Bowl to be held at NRG Stadium.

It would have helped if the person doing the Photoshopping had not just superimposed an NFL logo on the set of ESPN's College GameDay, but whatever.

Emmett called the idea "a silly plan" and even quipped that it would haunt him after he retires. Emmett no doubt remembers the one tarnish on former Mayor Bob Lanier's record, allowing Bud Adams to move the Houston Oilers to Tennessee. Adams wanted to contribute half to a downtown retractable-roof stadium (sound familiar?) that would cost around $250 million. NRG Stadium cost nearly twice that, with taxpayers footing the lion's share of the bill.

It has long been a foregone conclusion among many around town that both the Rodeo and the Texans have for years wanted to see the Astrodome demolished. The iconic structure is taking up a huge space in Reliant Park, impeding their ability to create space for their patrons. Most had believed the plan all along was to turn it into a parking structure, so this green space concept is at least a step away from something so mundane and utilitarian.

It's bad enough that AstroWorld was demolished for no good financial reason. The empty dirt lot still sits there, barren, a kind of field of broken dreams for kids who never got to experience a theme park and adults who spent their youth there. And while something must be done with the rotting structure, and despite a vote that rejected the idea of turning it into a meeting and convention facility -- a campaign Emmett admits was poorly handled -- this seems rushed and, well, a little silly.

As much as the city has, for whatever reason, suddenly begun to embrace the concept of parks and quality of life -- something about as foreign to Houston over the past century as zoning -- a big, flat park surrounded by parking lots, convention halls and a stadium sounds downright odd. The renderings look more like a memorial than a park.

Never mind who would actually use it. When no events are taking place at Reliant Park, it's hard to imagine people randomly choosing to drive into the gates of the area just to hang out in a park with no shade or swings or anything. Discovery Green this ain't.

So, while I'm with Emmett in his assessment, there is no question the hour is growing late. Like it or not, the Super Bowl coming here in 2017 puts a kind of stopwatch on the situation. No one wants a rotting Astrodome grimly resting next to NRG Stadium. Emmett wants to take another shot with the meeting space. The Texans and the Rodeo are opting for some strange memorial to a stadium that isn't yet gone. Virtually everyone agrees something radical must occur and the likely approach is demolition, but no one wants the Astrodome imploding on his watch.

Eventually, someone will at some point flinch. The question is who? The when is sooner than you think.

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