What does $217 miilion bond issue for Astrodome really get you?

We found out taxpayers could end up footing the bill for what may amount to a 'rough draft' renovation
October 23, 2013 12:39:21 PM PDT
There's a moving effort to save the Astrodome. A billboard on wheels is traveling around the Bayou City, inviting citizens to share their memories of the "Eighth Wonder of the World." If Harris County voters choose to save the dome, what does the $217 million bond issue buy them? We found out taxpayers could end up footing the bill for what may amount to a "rough draft" renovation.

The bond issue would cost a family $8 a year in property taxes, but even after studying the proposal, it's hard to figure out exactly the outcome will be.

After a decade of very public and very expensive decay, the plan could finally breathe new life in to the aging Astrodome: $217 dollars to take out the seats, raise the floor, open it up and turn the dusty old dome in to the new dome experience.

"Would we go build the dome for this purpose? No. But it's here and it's the only one in the world," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

It will be unique. It's one of the largest - if not the largest - space of its kind in the world.

The wish list of potential uses organizers came up with runs from football to bowling to a long list of conventions.

"We're trying to attract events that we don't have now, particularly big national conventions," said Edgar Colon with the Harris County Sports Convention.

But Reliant Park's own master plan study released last year says, "(Large Conventions) often times prefer downtown convention facilities with greater access to hotel inventory."

And there's no hotel near the dome and no plans for one.

"The dome is not being converted to a convention center," Emmett said.

Certainly the rodeo and Offshore Technology Conference would use it. But the wish list contemplates swimming events and field hockey and lacrosse, high school football and graduations. They require just 10,000 to 15,000 seats at the most. The dome once sat nearly 50,000.

"While the current proposal may not be the highest and best use of the dome forever, it is something that will allow us to preserve it and use it and we'll see what it becomes in the future," Mayor Annise Parker said. "It is still possible that the right private sector offer would come along, and I am absolutely convinced that Harris County would consider it."

Organizers admit this plan doesn't make money for the county. The dome experience is projected to barely break even. And it appears one of the motivations may simply be to hold to Houston history.

"There could be a time in the future when someone comes up with an even better idea of what we're going to use it for and we've preserved it," Emmett said.

Harris County owns the dome, and the county says if voters approve the bond, construction would begin very quickly. If another plan comes forward, it would have to be funded with private money.

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