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The Dome Is Dead. Long Live the Dome.

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The Houston Texans and the Houston Rodeo appear to have finally killed the Astrodome.

Citing fears of lost revenue, and because the county granted them the right of veto over use of the Dome property, the organizations killed the latest redevelopment plan for the former Eighth Wonder of the World.

We shouldn’t be surprised. If the River Oaks Shopping Center can’t be saved from Barnes & Noble, why should we expect the Dome to survive? And once the Rodeo got veto power, everyone should’ve known the Dome was to be no more.

Good arguments can be made on both sides of this debate. The best argument for destruction is that no one knows how to redevelop it. No one knows how to use it. And the cost of keeping it in semi-usable condition has to be prohibitive.

But give it a good, thorough scrubbing, and the Dome could be just as shining, sparkling as Reliant Stadium. And I’ve never read of any mildew-like problems with the Dome’s roof. And just why is it this city has to constantly destroy all of its links to the past? This city has no character as it is. Its history is a made-up one of cowboys and cattle that more appropriately belongs to our neighbors up north on I-45.

Perhaps, more importantly, the former Eighth Wonder of the World is still a marvel. There’s no sense of awe, of place, of setting, to any of Houston’s new sports palaces. Reliant Stadium has the atmosphere of a gigantic blimp hangar – do any of you remember the old Goodyear Blimp hangar up Spring way? I imagine being in Reliant Stadium is what standing in that empty hangar must have been like. (Isn’t that place now a strip mall or a car dealership?) And don’t get me started on MMP. If anyone knows of one original idea that went into the design of that place, I’d sure like to know what it is.

But there was a grace to the Dome. I always got a sense of awe walking into the place – and having worked there for its last 12 seasons of use as a baseball stadium, I walked in there a lot. Bud Adams tried to ruin the place, but the Dome was always more than just a scoreboard.

At one time, the Dome was one of the two things that most identified Houston to the nation, and the world. The Dome and NASA were Houston. A city of progress and innovation. Now it’s a city of topless clubs, billboards, strip malls, and pollution. Saving the Astrodome won’t return Houston to the old image, but it surely won’t improve our image if we destroy the thing.

I think what bothers me most about this whole thing, besides how the Rodeo seems to run the city and county – is that I was born the year the Astrodome opened. And if the Astrodome is an old, outdated eyesore, what does this make me?

I was a witness to many wondrous things in the Dome. The night Daddy Bush denounced Liberals, Lawyers, and the Media, I was there carrying around cables connecting TV cameras to various connectors that allowed his image to be transported to all of the true believers throughout the world. I saw Mike Piazza tee off on a Billy Wagner fastball and send it to the rainbows in the deepest of centerfield – the ball was still rising as it hit the seats. I was there for Jeff Bagwell’s first game as an Astro. And I was there for Nolan Ryan’s last. I got to shoot of the fireworks on the old big scoreboard before the Bud Adams renovations had it destroyed and replaced with seats. I got the DiamondVision shutdown by the umpires for showing a close replay. I was on the floor of the Dome the night that Selena made her presence known to the redneck rodeo audience. I watched Bigfoot and Grave Digger demolish countless junk cars. I was there when David Klinger and the Coogs did everything possible to score 100 points against SMU. I was there dodging linebackers as the Oilers lost playoff games.

I know. I’m wallowing in nostalgia. And this is Houston and Houston doesn’t recognize nostalgia. This is Houston which believes in bulldozing to get to the future. I knew in my head that there was no way the Rodeo would ever allow the Dome to be redeveloped unless it was the Rodeo doing the redeveloping, and I’m pretty sure the Rodeo’s idea of redeveloping involves dynamite, bulldozers, cement, and parking spaces.

The Houston of my youth was a city of innovation. A city on the cutting-edge. And the Astrodome was the perfect reflection of that vision. Much as Reliant Stadium and MMP are now the perfect reflection of Houston: plastic, soulless copy-cats of things done much better elsewhere.

And just what does that say about me, then?

Sigh. – John Royal

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