The Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved turning part of the Houston Astrodome into a parking garage.
Specifically, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Commissioners Gene Locke, Jack Morman, Steve Radack and Jack Cagle gave the green light for the design phase of the project. The plan is to raise the Dome's floor 30 feet to ground level to build a two-story underground garage with room for about 1,400 vehicles.
County officials have budgeted $10.5 million for the design phase, which can take between 12 and 18 months.
"We’ll wanna team because most of it is just pure engineering, the structural concrete for the parking lot and things, but there’s architectural elements as well," Harris County Engineer John Blount explains.
The overall cost of the project is $105 million, $35 million of which would come from the county's general fund.
The balance would come from the hotel occupancy tax and revenue from other parking lots Harris County owns.
Emmett says the project doesn't require any tax increases,. Further, the plan is less expensive than demolishing the Dome.
"Even if it could be demolished, that would cost upwards of 30 million dollars,” Emmett said after the meeting. “So, Do you use taxpayer dollars to destroy an iconic structure, after which you have nothing left? Or do you use taxpayer dollars to put it back into use that all the groups like OTC say they can use?"
However, retired engineer John Stephens isn't totally on board with the project.
The Harris County resident spoke at the meeting/ He proposed a referendum about the Astrodome that would include all options, from demolition to full restoration of the venue.
Stephens argues he doesn't necessarily oppose the parking garage, but opposes the way Emmett and the commissioners are making the decisions about the project.
"The voters rejected a plan for the Dome a few years ago and now we’re seeing sort of a well-intentioned, nostalgic, passionate group try to do something without voter approval," Stephens said.
Emmett said he hopes this project will still leave the option of converting the Dome into an event venue.
The Texas Historical Commission would eventually have to approve a final design for the parking structure proposal from Harris County because they are considering granting the Astrodome a State Antiquity Landmark status.