For over 20 years, the Astrodome, The Eighth Wonder of the World as it was dubbed when it opened — the first fully air-conditioned indoor stadium — has sat vacant...for the most part. It held an indoor carnival or two in the early oughts. Of course, it was home to thousands of those seeking refuge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Beyond that, they've sold the seats and other memorabilia at huge auctions and hosted a couple appreciation days, but that's it.
The problem is that for all those years since the Astros vacated the historic, iconic building for the modern confines of Minute Maid Park, no one really knew what to do with the Dome. It became a political hot potato. No politician wanted to tear it down and be the one that killed Houston's most important piece of architecture, but there wasn't anyone who was willing to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for renovations on a building with little or no purpose.
There were numerous ideas floated from an indoor ski park to a museum to a hotel to more convention space. The latter even went before voters in 2013, where the concept was soundly defeated. But, before he was swept out of office in 2018's blue wave, then Harris County Judge Ed Emmett managed to push through a $105 million measure that would preserve the Dome.
Now that he is gone and current Judge Lina Hidalgo's concerns are far more focused on flood mitigation and the county's failing bond system, the Astrodome has been put on the back burner once again according to a report from the Houston Chronicle.
Hidalgo is quoted as saying, “Until we can make sure that the Astrodome plan makes fiscal sense and makes sense for our community, no major steps will be taken with regard to the project," even saying, the "Astrodome is forever part of our history." Doesn't exactly sound like someone jacked to renovate the former stadium.
There is also this little gem from Ted Powell, who was instrumental in getting the state historic designation that all but guarantees the building won't be demolished (something the folks at the rodeo and Texans would prefer). “It just might be further off,” he said. “You have to have the long-range view.”
Yeah, but how long? There is that weird old hotel just rotting near the Pierce Elevated in downtown. It's been like that for maybe a decade, but that is held up with legal obstacles and ownership issues. There are abandoned buildings and homes across the city for a range of reasons. But you'd be hard pressed to find a fairly large facility just collecting cobwebs (and still using taxpayer money to prop up its aging buttresses) on the order of the Dome for twenty-plus years.
The county will tell you it has been vacant officially since 2009, but let's not kid ourselves. It's been a lot longer than that. And yet it sits.
We have written many times in this publication about our support for preserving the Astrodome. We've participated in tours inside the structure on numerous occasions and pleaded for the county to do something...anything...to give this currently withering landmark its due. Still nothing.
We recognize the priorities of the county. Those priorities now are no different than they were in 2018 when this went through commissioners court. It's just not the priority of this particular county judge, which is fine for now. But the entire region deserves some kind of closure on this damn building. Honestly, we're sick of talking about it and we're certain Houstonians are tired of reading about it.
And, still, here we are, where we and the Astrodome have been for more than 20 years. Hopefully, it won't take another 20 to get something done, but we aren't holding our breath.