County Waits For Answers From Dome Redevelopment Hopefuls

Harris County officials say they're still waiting for financing details from a pair of entrepreneurs who want to turn the Astrodome into a hotel and theme park. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the Astrodome Redevelopment Corporation has already been given extra time to come up with a way to pay for the project and now has until after the first of the year to strike a deal.

In August of last year, Harris County Commissioners gave exclusive redevelopment rights to the Astrodome Redevelopment Corporation, but so far have seen no hard numbers on where the money will come from. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation has extended deadlines several times and is now sorting-out what officials call "operational issues" involved in the deal, things like revenue sharing between the developers, the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Willie Loston is the Sports and Convention Corporation's Executive Director.

"The environment that we deal with out there with two major tenants and a fully operating set of venues makes it very difficult to plug in, if you will, a project of this size. It is not an easy task. We do believe though that the upside potential to the citizens of Harris County is great enough for us to take a look at this and make sure that we give it fair and due consideration."

The project could cost upwards of $450 million and would turn the Astrodome into an upscale hotel and entertainment complex that would be paid for with private money. Despite the delays and questions about financing, Sports and Convention Corporation Chairman Mike Surface says he's still optimistic.

"From an economic feasibility standpoint, from a financing standpoint, I think we're well on our way. From a design approval standpoint I think we're well on our way. I think the last hurdle we've really got to do is get through some of the operational issues and get through some of the definitive documents."

Choosing his words carefully, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett refused to comment about any doubts he may have about the project. He says there's a process the County has agreed to and he'll let that take its course.

"The Astrodome Redevelopment Corporation has a very definitive plan. They have their feasibility studies. They've gone to literally the world market to seek financing and at some point they will have to come back before Commissioners Court and whatever lease agreement, everything else in the package will have to be a agreed to by Harris County Commissioners Court. So at this point it is at their hands. We have to leave it there and see what comes back."

Officials with the Astrodome Redevelopment Corporation were not available for comment, but earlier announced two additional investors in the project.

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