Museums in the Dome? Local Man Says Yes

"My name is Tony Webber and when I heard about the opportunity and the interest in saving the Astrodome, I immediately thought about a concept of well, take that space and turn it into a regional destination that could include a lot of museums."

Webber is the CEO of Houston-based Southwest Museum Services, a company that has helped build 150 museums over the past 20 years. His "Museums at the Dome" concept includes up to 15 museums built into the empty Houston icon. 

"It's a doable project. It's not too big. It is a welcome opportunity to do something great. We'd be the first to save our Dome, as opposed to tear it down."

He says the complex could include a variety of museums, including a Houston Rodeo Museum, a Texas Music Hall of Fame, a Petroleum Museum, even a UFO Museum. The cornerstone would be a Museum of Houston History that would showcase people and events that have shaped the city.

"People like Howard Hughes. The great events like what happened when we landed on the moon and how Houston was the center of that event. It would be a great stage to tell the beginnings of a museum that represents Houston history."

Webber figures it would cost about $380 million to get all the museums in place. He has potential financing lined-up and says the complex could generate about $100 million in yearly revenue with 4 million visitors at $25 a ticket.

"What we've done by having a whole collection of museum themes, we're actually taking cross sections of the population, both locally and regionally, and enticing them to come. So we think those numbers are realistic. Even if those numbers were half that, it could still support the cost of operating and servicing the debt."

His plan would have Harris County paying for the renovation of the Dome, a project that could costs upwards of $150 million. At this point, the County has no plans to pay for a retrofit. As for Webber's idea, Willie Loston with the Houston-Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation says in his mind, it's simply a concept, not an official plan or proposal.

"We know that the idea of museums certainly is one that is a workable idea, but whether or not the idea is the right fit for a redeveloped Astrodome is something that we still have to determine."

Loston says demolishing the Dome is still an option as well, not a popular one according to local opinion polls, but still an option. Meanwhile, Tony Webber says he's ready to trot-out some high-profile local supporters of his plan, with hopes that within four years or so, the Dome will be a destination again. 

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