Just Say No to NRG Stadium Renovations

Did the Texans burn something down? Is that why NRG Stadium needs massive renovations?
Did the Texans burn something down? Is that why NRG Stadium needs massive renovations? Groovehouse
click to enlarge Did the Texans burn something down? Is that why NRG Stadium needs massive renovations? - GROOVEHOUSE
Did the Texans burn something down? Is that why NRG Stadium needs massive renovations?
The Houston Chronicle's stories about the desperate need to upgrade and renovate NRG Stadium actually started way back in February of last year. But it's only this past week that the true barrage has truly begun, starting with John McClain begging for Harris County to give Bob McNair whatever he desires, then Brian T. Smith telling Houstonians to face up to reality, then an op-ed from a freelance contributor on Monday.

The stories are all the same. NRG Stadium is in desperate need of hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations, and these upgrades must be made if Houston ever hopes to hold another Super Bowl. Never mind that Houston just held a hugely successful Super Bowl where the roof was even opened up for the halftime show. And never mind that none of these reports bothers to state what's wrong with the stadium right now, or what should be improved.

A plan to fund these renovations is already worked out — just take that $105 million approved by Commissioners Court last fall for the Astrodome renovations and use them on NRG Stadium instead. County Judge Ed Emmett objects to this because he has seemingly dedicated his career to figuring out which Astrodome parking garage scheme to waste millions of dollars on — never mind that State Senator John Whitmire and Lieutenant Governor (and failed sportscaster) Dan Patrick are pushing a bill that would allow the people of Harris County to vote on any Astrodome plan. But once again, this is bizarre because how can it be known that that $105 million must be spent on NRG Stadium instead of the Astrodome next door when nobody knows what's wrong with NRG and what needs to be done to it?

Despite the dispute over making NRG Stadium a priority over the Astrodome, Emmett and the Chronicle are in agreement that NRG Stadium must be renovated — once again, everybody refuses to say what must be redone. The agreement comes from the fact that the lease between Harris County and the Texans mandates that the county must pay to keep the stadium in line with other NFL stadiums built within five years of NRG Stadium's opening. (Appendix A, "Comparable Facilities")

Twelve NFL stadiums opened within five years of NRG Stadium. The first of that group was FedEx Field, the home of the Redskins. The last of that group was University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. So it would seem then that these dozen stadiums are the benchmark for whether NRG is a first-class stadium. Yet every story deals with the Texans having to match AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the new stadiums in Minneapolis and Atlanta, the upcoming stadium in Los Angeles (and possibly Las Vegas), or the home of the Dolphins, which just underwent $400 million in renovations. But if the lease is what Emmett and the writers at the Chronicle say it is, then there is absolutely no requirement that the county pay for the renovations.

If Paul Brown Stadium or Nissan Stadium or Century Link Field get massive upgrades, then regrettably Harris County would be on the hook for improving NRG (here's hoping the people who negotiated this deal for Harris County aren't hired again in the future). But there is nothing that mandates Harris County give Bob McNair $105 million so that he can keep pace with Jerry Jones and maybe host another Super Bowl in ten or 15 years.

There have been numerous stadium renovations since NRG opened as Reliant Stadium, including massive video boards, the field turf that replaced the disastrous grass field, plus repairs to a retractable roof that Bob McNair insisted that he be given, but which he refuses to open for Texans games. There have been upgrades supposedly improving the in-stadium wireless signals. The necessity of these renovations can be debated, especially for the video boards, yet it can also be argued that these were required under the conditions of lease stating that NRG Stadium must be as first-class as Ford Field.

So here's the deal: If Bob McNair wants renovations to his stadium, make him come out and say what it is that he wants. None of this nonsense that if Houston wants to host a Super Bowl, it must upgrade. Give some actual damn details. And no, asking for upgrades to make the stadium equivalent to what they have in Dallas, Atlanta, Minneapolis or Los Angeles won't do it because that's not required by the lease.

If Bob McNair doesn't like the answer, then he can always do like Astros owner Jim Crane and pay for his own upgrades. Or maybe he can sue and take Harris County to court and put this in front of a jury and explain to them why taxpayers have to pay for such upgrades while ignoring the hellhole that is the county jail or while continuing to ignore that the county's part of a huge floodplain.

Harris County holds all of the cards. What's McNair going to do if he doesn't get what he wants? Is he going to relocate? To where? San Diego and Oakland are losing teams because they refuse to give in to blackmail from millionaires and billionaires and build new stadiums. St. Louis? Really, after having lost two teams? Good luck getting Jerry Jones to approve your move to San Antonio. Las Vegas if the Raiders fall out? Guess what? That stadium's not going to be built if the Raiders back out.

So no, despite the propaganda coming from the Houston Chronicle, there is absolutely no factual, legal or compelling reason to provide millions of dollars to Bob McNair to renovate NRG Stadium.  
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal