County Commissioners: Astrodome to stay, with taxpayer-funded $105 million rehab plan

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Astrodome to stay, with taxpayer-funded $105 million rehab plan

The Eighth Wonder of the World appears to have nine lives.

Harris County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to ok a plan to keep Houston's iconic Astrodome from being demolished.

The $10.5 million initial payout approved by commissioner's court is step one of a $105 million project that would raise the floor of the Astrodome two levels and put 1,400 parking spaces underneath. This would make the Dome a place suitable for conferences, festivals and other commercial events -- albeit without air conditioning.

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County Commissioners approve $105M plan for Astrodome.



Commissioners also believe that the Dome's surrounding grounds could also be useful for private events after the rehab.

Tuesday's vote of five individuals on the commissioner's court means is a reversal of fate for the stadium which many thought would be demolished after a 2013 vote when 128,616 voters -- more than half of those voting -- rejected a plan to approve a $217 million bond proposal that would have paid for massive renovations to the Astrodome.

That vote, under conventional wisdom, was expected to doom the Astrodome "to the wrecking ball," according to some media reports.

But now, while the Astrodome is being readied for renewal, the wrecking ball is going the way of the mothballs.

To be sure, the Astrodome is iconic. In 1965, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees played while President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird watched from the stands. Texas Governor John Connally tossed out the first ball. It was the first game ever played indoors.
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Other notables who impressed thousands under the Dome include: Evel Knievel jumping 13 cars two nights in a row; Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali fighting Cleveland Williams; and Elvis Presley giving six performances.

The county will spend a maximum of $35 million from the general fund on the development. The remaining $70 million will come from the hotel occupancy tax and general revenue.

Harris County voter John Stevens was the lone voter who spoke Tuesday in opposition.

The plan "did not win the vote majority," he said. "No matter what optimistic financing plan is proposed, the bottom line is, we the citizens will pay for it."
He wanted the county voters to have a say on the dome.

Tuesday's vote assures there will be no public vote -- the commissioners have spoken and four years from now the dusty dome will be reborn.

"I believe what we did today was the most logical, the most common sense approach to a building that is fully paid for and belongs to the taxpayers of Harris County," County Judge Ed Emmett said. "It puts it back into use. The tenants at NRG park can use it; the rodeo obviously."

Calls to NRG and the Houston Rodeo were not returned, but county officials distributed a list of supporters who would be interested using the Dome as a convention space, such as the Houston Auto Show, the Offshore Technology Conference, and the Houston World Series of Dog Shows.

A key question asked by Ted Oberg Investigates: Will commissioners vote to plow more taxpayer cash into the project if it turns out that $105 million isn't quite enough?

From Commissioner Steve Radack the answer was, "Not with county money, no."

Outgoing commissioner Gene Locke thinks there may be some wiggle room with the price -- and that's ok.

"There may be other different opportunities that result from us enhancing the facility that might bring private dollars in, that might need more public dollars," Locke said.

But Emmett said there are bright skies ahead for the Eighth Wonder of the World.

"The Astrodome's days of sitting idle and abandoned are over," he said. "Instead, Harris County's most recognized building will again be proud and useful -- as host to thousands of area residents attending a a variety of businesses and community events. Hundreds of people worked very hard to see that happen."
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