Harris County Commissioners Court Pushes the Astrodome Plan on Down the Line

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There was a full house at the Harris County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning. Seriously, people were packed into the room like so many sardines in a can all to see what will be the next step in plans to repurpose the Astrodome.

County Judge Ed Emmett noted wryly that anyone expecting a commissioners court vote on the actual proposed plan for the Astrodome was in for a disappointment.

"Just in case any of you are expecting a vote up or down, that's not going to happen today," Emmett said, glancing out at the audience.

Before hearing about the New Dome Experience plan recommended to the court by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, there were opportunities for people to address the court.

The speakers basically were either proposing a couple of their own ideas for the Dome - dropping the ceiling down to save on air conditioning costs and something about bringing the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame to the Dome - and then there were advocates from Astrodome Tomorrow, a group that has been pushing to save the historic structure. (One speaker noted that they'll start working on getting the money together to power-wash the Dome now that it looks like it won't be torn down or turned into a parking lot.)

As the speakers, each given three minutes to address the court, finished up Pct. 3 County Commissioner Steve Radack asked if there were any representatives from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

"They want it torn down, don't they?" he asked.

But there weren't any to be had, and the court moved on. Edgar Colon, chairman of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, presented the plan to the court, which the HCSCC approved at their board meeting last week. After considering both private and public options for how to handle the Astrodome, Colon told the court the HCSCC found this to be the most viable option.

The plan proposes to strip the seats out of the insides of the facility and renovate it to be 350,000 square feet of indoor, air conditioned space. The plan calls for raising the floor to ground level and completely overhauling the innards of the building. It would also strip the outside of all that cement and the towers added in the 1980s to make the building wheelchair accessible. The whole thing is estimated to cost about $194 million.

"The new Dome becomes the center and centerpiece of Reliant Park," Colon said, wrapping up his brief presentation.

The court voted unanimously to send the plan to the county budget office, the county attorney and the public infrastructure department. The budget office will tell them how much this plan will actually cost tax payers, and the county attorney's office will tell them how quickly everything needs to move to get this on the November ballot, if that's possible. It's going to the infrastructure department because Pct. 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle asked that it be sent to that department as well. Now the court has to see what the budget office, the county attorney and the public infrastructure department all have to say before looking at the issue again.

Back in April, the HCSCC said tearing the Dome down would become an option again if whatever option they ended up recommending (which ended up being this one) failed to get approved. Now, Colon notes that if the commissioners decided not to vote for the plan or voters decided against it, demolishing the building would be one of the options, but they would still be looking to the court for guidance and other options for what to do with the building.

Once things really get rolling, Colon says his organization will move in and start working to get the public informed on this project enough to vote on it if and when it gets on the ballot.

Speaking after the Capital Improvements Plan portion of the meeting where all this Astrodome talk occurred, Emmett said he thinks they should keep this project moving and get it done as quickly as possible if this is the path that everyone agrees to take.

"If we're going to do it, lets do it sooner rather than later," Emmett said.

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