When last we heard from Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on the topic of the Astrodome, he was in Germany touring a former zeppelin hangar for renovation ideas. Emmett was touting a $243 million park/convention center-type plan that would depend on public and private funding. Though no other real funding ideas were discussed, that trial balloon floated about as well as a lead zeppelin.
So now Judge Emmett is back in the news again with yet another Astrodome proposal. There are no dollar numbers attached to this plan. Then again, this plan supposedly employs a new funding model relying on a public-private partnership that would be overseen by a conservancy. No bond money would be used for this conservancy, so voter approval would not be required. And the public money would apparently be generated by way of tax credits.
"At this point, I'm very optimistic that it's going to happen without a bond issue," the Chron quotes Emmett as saying. "That's the direction we're moving in. People seem to be coalescing around the idea of re-purposing the Dome as a green space, adding parking underneath, and adding a conservancy to oversee the upper parts."
The devil, of course, is in the details. Those details right now are non-existent. There's no mention of who the private investors might be, or what the costs will be, or even what the actual funding mechanism will be. And it's one thing to say no public money will be invoked, but let's wait to see the actual plan before believing that.
There are many people who probably think that I want the Dome destroyed. I don't. I'm a native Houstonian. I spent a lot of my life there as an employee working on the scoreboard. But I am vehemently opposed to the use of public funds for renovating the Dome, primarily because the plans that have been floated would serve to strip business from other publicly-funded facilities in the city like the George R. Brown.
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So I hope Judge Emmett really does have a workable plan. It'd be great to save the building, and frankly, being on the same side of an issue as Steve Radack just has me rethinking my whole will to live. But it's got to be a realistic plan, and that funding mechanism has to be legit and the private backing must be in place.
If I were Judge Emmett, the first stop I would make would be the office of Bob McNair. McNair is, after all, one of the most influential Houstonians in sports. He's also soaked Harris County taxpayers for millions of dollars for use on his stadium, and he's blocked other proposed Dome use plans. And then there's this, the Texans earned $226 million alone from revenue sharing last year — that was the Texans share of the $7.24 billion the NFL made off things like TV contracts. So maybe it's time McNair gave a little something back to the community.
And then this: Judge Emmett says it's impossible to demolish the Astrodome because the Texas Historical Commission named it a landmark, thus making demolition dependent upon receiving state permission. He must have forgotten that this is Texas, and that about the only landmark this state considers sacred is the Alamo, so I wouldn't be so sure about the state not being willing to approve of the Dome's destruction so that the Texans and Rodeo could have more parking.
But truthfully, I applaud Judge Emmett for continuing to try and find ways to save the Astrodome. Sure there's that whole 2013 vote thing, and sure the Texans and Rodeo have made it clear they're more interested in a parking lot, but at least this plan supposedly doesn't involve the use of public money. It's just a shame the ones who made the decisions before Emmett came along didn't care about the Dome before pushing for Minute Maid Park and NRG Stadium and Toyota Center and BBVA Compass Stadium. And hopefully, in years to come, some elected leader like Judge Emmett will put as much time and effort into getting funds for useful things like schools as they do for sports stadiums.