Poll: Voters Don’t Want To Pay To Preserve Astrodome

The News 88.7/KHOU 11 News 2015 Election Poll shows a majority of voters don’t want to pay to turn the Astrodome into an indoor park. What could that mean for the future of the historic landmark?


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Houston Astrodome, Jan. 2014; Credit: Wikipedia

It’s another blazing summer day in Houston, and Nina Brown is searching for some shade at Tranquility Park in downtown. She says she likes the idea of converting the Astrodome into a climate-controlled green space.

“It’s super hot here, so that would be perfect for us to have,” Brown says. “But I mean, if it’s got to come out of the taxpayer’s money, then no.”

That seems to be the consensus among many residents. In a News 88.7/KHOU 11 News poll of 1,000 registered voters, 61 percent say taxpayers should not foot the bill for the project.

For years, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has led the charge to convert the dome into an indoor park. Speaking after at a recent meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court, he said they’re still trying to determine how to proceed.

“But it has to be stressed over and over and over, it’s already paid for,” Emmett says. “It already belongs to the taxpayers of Harris County. So therefore, whatever we do is going to cost money.”

The judge says taxpayers would cover the entire cost of demolishing the dome. That could be anywhere from about $30 million to $80 million, but the park project opens the door for private investment.

The Astrodome opened in 1965 as the world’s first enclosed, air conditioned sports stadium. But for years now, the structure known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” has sat vacant in NRG Park. The space is shared by tenants including the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Neither group responded to requests for an interview, but they have proposed a joint plan to demolish the dome.

Susan Rogers directs the University of Houston’s Community Design Research Center. She says as the region continues to see rapid growth, it hasn’t always preserved its architectural heritage.

“I think that we fail sometimes to recognize, if you will, the kind of embodied value of historic buildings and their presence and the character that they give,” Rogers says.

She says even though taxpayers may not be on board, other groups could support preserving the Astrodome, as long as the project eventually pays off.

“For private investors, there has to be something in it for them, right?” Rogers says. “I mean, if they’re going to put some skin in the game, that means that there’s going to be some benefit for them, likely financial.”

And there could be, thanks to the Dome’s landmark status. David Bush is deputy director of Preservation Houston. The group successfully applied for the stadium to be added to the National Park Service’s list of Historic Places.

“That doesn’t mean the dome can’t be torn down,” Bush says. “It’s just a measure of its significance, and it also would give private investors significant tax benefits if they were to invest in the dome.”

Bush says he understands why voters may have reservations about funding such a big undertaking. He can’t point to another preservation project of this magnitude.

“You can’t say, ‘oh look, they did it over there, it works,’” he says. “This is really setting the example… Now’s a chance to show people what can be done.”

County officials hope to reach a decision in time for the 2017 Super Bowl at NRG Stadium.

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