Rest in Peace, Astrodome, You Deserved So Much Better

From April 1988 through January 2000, I spent a lot of time at the Astrodome. About 100-150 nights a year, each year, more or less. My first job was operating the out-of-town games scoreboard for the Astros. I carried camera cables on the turf during Oiler games, dodged Monster Trucks and cattle. I was the guy who created the DiamondVision graphics/stats for each player during Astros games.

I have lots of great memories of my years working at the Dome. My years there were, without a doubt, the best years on any job I've ever had. On what other job could you discuss Gravity's Rainbow with Larry Dierker, who'd been your favorite player when you were a kid? One of my most treasured items is a lightbulb from the old home run spectacular that was torn up for the benefit of Bud Adams. I've never experienced a more electric feeling than being on the floor of the Dome when Selena performed her first rodeo concert.

The Astrodome is part of my DNA. And I despise the many so-called city, county and state officials who have allowed the Dome to deteriorate into the condition that it is in today. If Hell exists, then Bud Adams will go there because of what he did to it, blackmailing the county into ripping out the scoreboard so he could have more seats, then departing before the lease had expired and before the work he wanted done to the stadium had even been paid off. And don't let Drayton McLane off the hook, either, because once that bastard saw he could scam the taxpayers into building him a new pleasure palace, he let the place deteriorate.

I've long advocated that the Astrodome needs to be saved. That in a city known for destroying its past the Dome needs to stand to show that Houston was once a forward-thinking city, setting the mark for stadiums and architecture and the future. Nothing symbolizes both the past and the future of Houston better than the Astrodome, an architecture marvel of the 1960s that nobody has yet eclipsed.

Reliant Stadium dwarfs the Dome. It holds more people. It can host bigger events. But it's got the personality of an aircraft hangar. The grass constantly dies and is not safe. The first hurricane it faced, it suffered severe roof damage. How many hurricanes has the Dome handled since 1965 without suffering any structural damage, yet Ike forced the Texans on the road for a month while the NFL shuffled around league schedules. The Dome was a totally original baseball stadium. Minute Maid Park is a pathetic rehash of multiple ballparks with the trashy personality of an MTV reality-show contestant.

The consultants released another study Wednesday on what to do with the Astrodome. There was nothing original in the taxpayer-funded study. Nothing that hasn't been proposed before. In fact, the consultants seemed more concerned with saving and rehabilitating the totally useless and totally unnecessary Reliant Arena than they did with figuring out a real solution for the derelict mess that the Dome has become.

Essentially they want to raise the floor and turn the Dome into a small venue for football, soccer, hockey, basketball and concerts. But that's also what they want to do with Reliant Arena. And what the consultants want to do with the Dome is what is supposed to be done with that new taxpayer-funded paradise the Dynamo is playing in. You know, that new small stadium meant for hosting soccer, football and concerts. And one of the purposes for renovating Hofheinz Pavilion, besides giving the Cougars a modern basketball facility, is using it, once again, for concerts. And I'm sure Les Alexander would love Harris County trying to steal business from his Harris County-funded arena.

The work wouldn't be cheap -- the proposed cost for the Dome renovation is $270 million while the Reliant Arena would be over $385 million. It's for an idea that, more than likely, the Rodeo will veto, just like it's vetoed every other idea for renovating the Dome -- frankly, if the County really wants to do anything besides destroy the Dome, then they should just hand it over to the Rodeo and tell them to do with it what they will.

I love the Astrodome. It is still the Eighth Wonder of the World, something that will never, ever be said about Reliant Stadium or Minute Maid Park. But something needs to be done. And that something is something I thought I would never write, never say, never believe. It's time to put the Dome out of its misery. It needs to be demolished. Make the space a memorial of some kind with lots of green space and trees. Place statues about the grounds of the great athletes who once roamed the building.

It's not the perfect solution. But it's clear that Harris County officials are incompetent and don't give a damn. The consultants do nothing but spend money and offer up nothing realistic. And if they were asked in private, it's pretty clear Rodeo officials would be more than happy if it were gone.

The Astrodome has suffered enough. Let's just finally end it all now. Before more money's wasted. Before the Dome falls apart further. Before another magical casino/hotel/convention center plan gets offered up as the totally unrealistic solution.

Rest in Peace, old friend. You deserved so much better.

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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