Astrodome's Fate Decided Today? Good Lord, We Hope So

The mayoral race hasn't generated much heat this year (which is fairly typical for Houston), but there are other reasons to hit the polls.

Besides votes on saving water and building new jail facilities, there is a ballot question that we can only hope puts to bed one way or the other the seemingly endless debate over what to do with the Astrodome.

Up for approval is a $217 million plan to convert the lower portions of the Dome into a multipurpose facility for trade shows, smaller concerts and similar events.

Does it make fiscal sense? Whatever answer you prefer, you can find a study to support it. So it comes down, really, to how you feel about the Dome. (A poll shows support for the issue, by 45 percent in favor to 35 percent against.)

Houston has had a tangled emotional history with the building. In five steps:

5. The planning Houston was really just a remote outpost on the edge of the national consciousness in the early `60s, an exotic place full of crude neanderthal oilmen, with gaucherie abundant in its "fine arts" and nothing much to show beyond NASA. (How times have changed!?)

Still, a group of hucksters civic leaders convinced locals that a gigantic dome, with windows to let grass grow in it, would vault the city onto the world stage. That takes Dome-sized balls.

4. The honeymoon and golden days If being a world-class city means lots of news reports featuring employees dressed as spacemen, then the Dome succeeded brilliantly. All but the most mosquito-loving Houstonians took to it immediately, even as the grass had to be replaced by an ugly rug. (Ugly rugs were all but mandated by homeowners associations in the `60s, so it wasn't much of an adjustment.)

Then came the high point: Luv Ya Blue.

The Astros had some good years in the building, but nothing ever touched the magic of Bum Phillips, Earl Cambell and the rest of the late-`70s Oilers. Houston thought they -- and the Dome -- would live forever.

3. The desecration

The Dome's inevitable doom began to become clear in the `80s, when Oilers owner Bud Adams began grumbling about it being too small to host a Super Bowl.

His offer to Houston and Harris County: Take out the unique scoreboard, replace it with seats that won't be used much, and spend millions and millions doing it or I'm moving.


A big chunk of the Astrodome's heart and charm was quickly excised; no Super Bowl came to the Dome, and Adams quickly began making noises about moving again.

2. The Tomb He followed through on those promises, and announced the Oilers would be moving to Tennessee. They still had some seasons to play in Houston before the move could occur, however, and selling tickets to a fan base you had just royally screwed proved to be a difficult endeavor.

The Oilers played before acres of empty seats, the Luv Ya Blue days a long-forgotten, hazy memory.

1. The embarrassing age Most people forget that Reliant Stadium was pretty much an afterthought in the referendum to build new sports facilities in town -- there was no NFL team to build a stadium for, and with LA also minus a team, there seemed little chance of getting one. Most of the attention was on the threatening-to-leave-town Astros.

But the vote for a new Astros stadium also called for a new football stadium if the city landed a team, and somehow it did.

Which put a deathwatch on the Dome and ushered in the current embarrassing age of psychotic suggestions on what to do with it.

Indoor ski slope? Sure. Indoor river? Of course. Movie studio, shopping center, anything and everything was tossed out and guaranteed to succeed. We're pretty sure "World's Largest Independent Bookstore & Newspaper Stand" was trotted out at some point, but we could be wrong.

The point is, we've talked about this building enough. Either do something with it or tear it down.

Maybe the vote today will provide some guidance.

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Send your story tips to the author, Richard Connelly.

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