A look at the many (and costly) Astrodome studies

Tuesday, June 28, 2016
A look at the many (and costly) Astrodome studies
Numerous proposals and an endless stream of studies have been made about what to do with the Astrodome. Ted Oberg examines some of the costs.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Like a steady drip, drip, drip since the Astrodome shut its doors for good in 2008, Harris County residents have gotten used to the stream of studies with proposals on what to do with the 'Eighth Wonder of the World.'

We've heard it all: Private and volunteer studies that said the best use of the dome would be a giant arena for track cycling. Or a movie studio. Or perhaps a giant indoor park with hiking trails. Or a mall, a casino or a snowy ski slope that would put Aspen to shame.

All this before the latest proposal from Harris County officials unveiled Tuesday to turn the dome into nine acres of indoor open space on top of 1,400 covered parking spaces -- costing $105 million in public money.

So let's take a look at the seven serious dome studies spanning nearly a decade.

The Ted Oberg Investigates calculator shows taxpayers have paid at least $412,000 for those studies, not counting county employees time.

In 2010, the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation spent $50,000 on a study that recommended a multi-purpose dome redo.

It also suggested more study.

That led to a Reliant Park master plan study costing the taxpayers $262,000. Another $262,000 was donated by organizations like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Texans.

The options in that study ranged from a $128 million teardown to a $1.4 billion extravaganza.

A study that led to a proposal that went before voters and failed in 2013 -- the "New Dome Experience' plan -- was largely designed in house or with volunteer labor and at least some of it from companies that could have bid for the job.

That same year the Texans and the rodeo paid for a study that proposed tearing the Astrodome down for $29 million, the cheapest of any of the options.

In 2014 taxpayers and fans who bought old dome seats paid $100,000 to the Urban Land Institute, which recommended an elaborate redesign to turn the dome into an indoor park.

And last year, County Judge Ed Emmett led a delegation to view a massive blimp hangar at a former blimp hangar in Germany that has been converted into the world's largest indoor rainforest where visitors can camp overnight and explore.

The delegation's trip was paid for by political donations rather than tax money.

All this leads us to Tuesday's report, built on the Urban Land Institute work and was completed by county officials with the help of engineering, architecture, and construction firms, all of whom donated their time -- and all of whom do county work.

A vote by county commissioners later this year will determine if this is the study to end all studies.