On Monday, the Astros agreed to extend their lease at Minute Maid Park through 2050. The lease signed with the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority created little in the way of fanfare, but was critical not only in keeping the Astros in Houston beyond the 2030 season, but in continuing the revitalization of downtown that began, at least in part, with the opening of the ballpark in 2000.
It's ironic that this news barely registers on the sports landscape considering the contentious battle that led to the building of not just Minute Maid Park but Toyota Center, BBVA Compass Stadium and, to some degree, NRG Stadium.
We'll spare you the long, sad history of the relocation of the Oilers to Tennessee and skip right to the Astros, who threatened to move to Northern Virginia in the early 1990s. This led to a referendum to build a new stadium in downtown which narrowly passed in 1996 and was followed by the Brimer Bill, legislation that allows groups like the Sports Authority to collect hotel occupancy and car rental taxes to pay for stadiums.
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Within 20 years, we had four new stadiums in Houston, three of which were in downtown.
This may not seem like all that big of a deal right now, but in the early '90s, downtown was not exactly a great place to hang out. In fact, when the Houston Rockets held a referendum that would eventually lead to the building of Toyota Center, one of the chief arguments from opponents was that no one would go downtown to see a ballgame and stadiums would have little or no impact on development in the areas where they were built.
Wrong on both counts, it turns out. From Discovery Green to new living spaces to the development of EaDo, much of downtown's east-side development can be traced almost directly to the Astros stadium, which happened to be timed with a nationwide movement out of the suburbs and back into urban areas. Minute Maid Park was the lynch pin in a plan that, at one point, few believed would work. All former Oilers owner Bud Adams wanted was a retractible roof stadium on the east side of downtown. Sound familiar?
So, the Astros signing a lease that will keep the team in Houston and continue the upkeep of the stadium and the development surrounding area may not seem like a big deal considering the ongoing success of the team. For those who remember a time when downtown was a ghost town after 6 p.m. and all of our professional sports teams nearly bailed for other cities, extending the Astros lease feels like a pretty big deal.