Will the redone Dome really break even?

A week ago, we asked the group behind the Dome renovation plan for financial projections; and now we have it
October 23, 2013 4:22:33 PM PDT
We have an update this evening on exactly what a $217 million bond to save the Astrodome really buys.

On Tuesday, we revealed the Dome Experience renovation may just be the first round of renovations that could cost taxpayers. Now we've learn the estimated revenue of a redone dome has one major flaw in its formula.

We're not talking about the construction, but the actual operations of a new dome. But we wanted to make sure that the projections being given were accurate. It took us days to get them, and we still have some questions.

Edgar Colon is the chairman of Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, the group that runs the facilities at Reliant Park for Harris County. He's also been the point man promoting the $217 million plan to remake the dome in to the new Dome Experience, a massive open space for virtually any future use.

Colon told us the new dome will break even once it's redone, but we just wanted to make sure.

"Do you have those projections?" we asked Colon last week.

"I'll send it to you," he said.

On Tuesday, six days after that interview, we finally got the projections. And it's one page. They do show the new dome would break even, but look closer: The group hired experts who projected the new dome would bring in $1.7 million in annual revenue; but then the people behind the plan increased the projection, saying they can outperform the experts, bringing in $3.3 million.

That's nearly twice what experts said they would bring in and to make that happen they said they'd have to get money from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in rent. But the rodeo's not going to pay rent.

"We pay no rent on the Astrodome," RodeoHouston CEO Leroy Shafer said.

And they never have.

The rodeo signed a lease in 1964 that allows them the use of the Astrodome rent-free, and signed the same deal in 2001. In exchange, the rodeo built the Astrohall and Astroarena and turned them over to the county, and the county gets concession money during rodeo events. The sports corporation knows that but still feels they can get the rodeo to pay up to make the new dome break even.

"Directly, we're not going to contribute rent payment to that building," Shafer said.

Even though they're a public agency and they're asking for your vote right now, the sports and convention corporation wouldn't tell us how much money they want from the rodeo. And they asked us to keep secret how much they want in dome naming rights.

Both numbers are key to making the proposal break even. Just take their word for it.

"It will be self-sufficient," Colon said.

The people behind the plan did say they could negotiate money from the rodeo other than rent, like by concessions with parking, but they haven't begun to have those discussions yet.

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