The Astrodome, With a New Construction Manager, May Yet Live

Ed Emmett might yet save this place.
Ed Emmett might yet save this place. Jeff Balke
The stadium that will not die appears to have finally been taken off of life support and moved to a regular patient room. Harris County Commissioners voted this week to seek a construction manager-at-risk for the Astrodome renovation project.

It was just earlier this year that funding efforts to revitalize the stadium were jeopardized by what appeared to be a three-pronged attack coming from the Houston Texans, the Houston Chronicle and the state Legislature. Starting after the Super Bowl, stories broke about the need for millions of dollars of renovations for NRG Stadium if the city was ever again going to get the Super Bowl. Stories and op-eds then started appearing saying that the preferred method for financing these changes was by using money that Harris County intended to use on renovating the Astrodome.

But the Astrodome has refused to die. State Senator John Whitmire proposed a bill that would force another election before any renovations could be done on the Astrodome. Though it passed the Senate, it died in the House. And since the barrage of post-Super Bowl stories on the deteriorating condition of NRG Stadium, there has been nothing but silence from the Texans and the Chronicle on the matter.

While the call for NRG Stadium renovations might arise sometime again in the future, it appears the funding source will not be Harris County money set aside for the Astrodome. There is no official statement concerning this, of course — though Harris County Judge Ed Emmett did tell the Houston Press back in February that those funds could not be used on NRG Stadium — the Commissioners Court vote appeared to be the final nail in that coffin.

The vote does not guarantee that there is going to be an actual renovation of the Astrodome, but this is a necessary first step. What this does do is authorize the finding of a construction manager-at-risk. That company, according to the county, assumes the risk of general contractor for the project while consulting with the county during and after the project design phase. The actual project would supposedly entail the construction of a multi-purpose exhibition floor with direct access from the street, and two levels of below-grade parking with 700 parking spaces per floor.

The people who have objected to Astrodome renovation will likely not support this, though supposedly no new bonds or taxes will be required (disclosure: I have been one of those people in the past). The Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will also be unlikely to be pleased — the football team and the rodeo have vetoed multiple rehab plans for the building in a quest for more parking.

But Emmett told the Press that the Astrodome is a county facility, and that as such, he has an obligation to find a way to make use of it, just as he has to find a way to make use of any county facility. And that if he can do it without raising taxes, that is what he is going to do.

The funding plan for the project involves money raised from the hotel occupancy tax, downtown Houston, parking revenue and general county revenue. It comes from the same funds used for other Harris County projects. Emmett's hope is that a renovated Astrodome will become a money-generating facility that can then be used to fund improvements throughout the NRG Park area.

"To me, this gives us the best opportunity for the dome to not only be preserved, to be repurposed, but to actually generate revenue that could then be used in the rest of [NRG Park]," Emmett said. "Absent that, all the county has really [as a funding mechanism] is property tax."

Again, there is still no official design, no official plan, no final cost and no timeframe for any proposed work. This is just approval to begin preliminary work.

"This is one of those issues where no matter what we do, somebody's not going to be happy," Emmett said back in February. "I got that. But I guarantee people would be less happy if we tore down the Astrodome and took all of the money and put it into NRG."

It looks like the Astrodome is not going to be torn down anytime soon. It might still be awhile before there is any rehabilitation or renovation, but after years and years of nothing but talk, it finally appears that the rebirth of the Astrodome might actually become a reality.
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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