Harris County Judge Ed Emmett thinks that you are an idiot. Not that he's actually said that, but seeing as how he's pushing another renovation plan for the Astrodome, one that currently involves no private financing and costs $243 million, what Emmett thinks of the citizens of Harris County is pretty obvious.
The current plan is, as my colleague Jeff Balke said last week, nothing more than a warmed-over rehash of other plans that have been rejected by the county. It's going to be part indoor park, part meeting space for the Offshore Technology Conference, and a pre-game/pre-rodeo spot for the Texans and the Rodeo. There will even be a history museum. And to make the Texans and the Rodeo happy, there will be underground parking, which they can use to gouge event patrons out of even more money.
There is as yet no official plan to put before the voters, and while Commissioners Court has accepted the Urban Land Institute plan that Emmett is shopping, there's been no word as to when the Court will decide what action to take with that current proposal.
Here's the thing: The people of Harris County voted on a Dome renovation project several years ago. That plan would have turned the facility into space for the Offshore Technology Conference while providing event space for the Rodeo and the Texans. There would have been green space added outside the Dome. It would have cost $210 million. The voters rejected this referendum.
"The referendum was for a multi-purpose facility that some people mistakenly compared to a convention center," Emmett told KUHF earlier this week. "This really will be a park."
But Emmett promises that the taxpayers won't end up footing the entire bill for the project. Going all Kevin Costner, Emmett promises that, once this new plan's approved, the private investment will come flooding in.
"Once you commit to saying, 'Okay, we're going to build a park.' And then around that park is going to be the availability for other groups to add on," Emmett said. "It's those other groups that are going to be coming up, I think, with the bulk of the money."
There's just one problem with that ridiculous assumption: There were some private-investment ideas in the past. Remember the idea for the aquarium? Or the ski slope? Or the movie studio? The hotel/indoor amusement park idea almost came to fruition, only to be shut down by the Texans and the Rodeo. And the Texans and the Rodeo are why there will never be any private investment with a Dome renovation. While not holding an actual veto over projects involving the Astrodome, the Texans and the Rodeo have possession of the next best thing: exclusive access to the parking lots on game/event days, while the Rodeo also has control of the entire NRG Park area during the unending week of the rodeo. What legitimate private organization, hoping to make money from an investment, is going to want to build a hotel, mall, amusement park, etc. when there are weeks where employees and patrons can't even have access to the facility?
At this point it's important to mention that the Texans are trolling Harris County for $50 million for improvements -- $5 million would go toward stadium Wi-Fi while the remaining cash would be used on improving the condition of the suites. This is while the county is still graciously repaying the Texans and the Rodeo for moneys those two expended in renovating the scoreboards.
Were he a smarter man, Emmett might use this to his advantage and demand that the lease allowing the Texans/Rodeo full effective control over NRG Park be renegotiated. If the Texans really want those bucks for the Wi-Fi/suites, then they no longer get to hold parking spaces hostage. If the Rodeo wants others paying for scoreboards, then it no longer gets to use the whole damn entirety of NRG Park for a month. And if entire control of the facility and park is really so important to the Texans/Rodeo, then guess what -- they get to pay for the upgrades they deem to be so vital to their profit lines.
Sure, they'll probably whine about broken contracts and broken promises, but having a contract sure didn't prevent Bob McNair from dumping Andre Johnson. Companies renegotiate contracts all of the time -- it's the American way for parties to negotiate themselves out of bad contracts. And frankly, unless the Texans/Rodeo cede total control of parking and the facilities, then there's absolutely no way that there will ever be a workable, realistic renovation plan for the Astrodome.
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The voters have spoken, and the voters are not in favor of using public funds to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a park/convention center. So it's time for Emmett to put the screws to the Texans/Rodeo. Those two organizations have made tons of money off the taxpayers of Harris County, and if they really want to be such good citizens of the county, it's about damn time they started acting like it.
But who's kidding whom? The Texans/Rodeo are never going to give up control of their NRG Park domain, and they're never going to stop begging for money. Which means there's never going to be any realistic plan for renovating the Astrodome, no matter what cockamamie thing Emmett trots out and tries to sell.
Enough is enough already. The voters said no to turning the Astrodome into a convention center/indoor park in 2013, and if the best that can be presented in 2015 is another plan for an indoor park/convention center, then just blow the damn thing up already.
And if Ed Emmett wants to make a trip to Germany to check out a zeppelin hanger that was turned into a tropical island resort, then go ahead. Just don't claim it has anything to do with the Astrodome.