astrodome_bucek

Conceived of by David Bucek, this 1990 illustration depicts a sanctuary for survivors of a worldwide ecological disaster

The Astrodome—What is to be done?

Hotel, movie studio, sanctuary from disaster, and giant indoor park are among the many ideas proposed for the dilapidated Astrodome. Join our online forum about the once glorious stadium’s future. Madeleine McDermott Hamm, former Home Design Editor for the Chronicle (author of “The Astrodome: The Glory Days, the decline, the future,” Cite 76, Nov 2008) and University of Houston Professor of Architecture Bruce Webb (“Making a Dome Deal,” Cite 64, Summer 2005) are opening the discussion.

We encourage all readers to contribute their thoughts, memories, and ideas. Click on the more link below and scroll to the bottom to leave a comment.

The forum is a structured version of a typical comments section for a blog post. Here is how it will run.

Today (Thursday)…
Madeleine Hamm and Bruce Webb open the discussion with a pair of opening statements.

Throughout the weekend…
The comments section stays open. All readers are encouraged to make respond with comments, remembrances, and questions. We are looking for a stimulating, respectful, and fun discussion. I will serve as moderator.

Monday…
The discussion will close.

Here are three links to articles that provide some background on the issue:

City violations shut Astrodome’s doors, Liz Austen Peterson, Houston Chronicle, February 21, 2009

Readers rank Astrodome as Houston’s favorite building, Lisa Gray, Houston Chronicle, December 26, 2008

A link to the petition to save the Astrodome.

The Astrodome Studios movie studio plan.

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    44 Comments

    1. 1

      If you thought the possible destruction of the Art Deco River Oaks and Alabama Theaters caused uproar, just wait until they decide to tear down our Astrodome!

      Could that happen? If not, what is going to happen to the Astrodome? These are the questions we’re always asked, the questions with no answers – yet.

      Once Houston’s proud symbol of ingenuity dominated the open landscape south of downtown, like a giant spaceship that had landed and branded our city. Now the Astrodome stands silent along Loop 610 South, overshadowed by the newer, glitzier Reliant Stadium.

      And as it stands forlorn and unused, it deteriorates, like an abandoned step-child. Preservationists fear that the Astrodome’s fate will be destruction by neglect. That inaction by the forces in control will eventually bring it down because Harris County will decide it’s too far gone to save.

      A creative hotel plan for the structure apparently has died due to opposition and the economic downturn. Other ideas, including a film production studio and Judge Ed Emmett’s more recent proposal for a venue for public events, such as the International Festival, have been floated.

      But where’s the money? The support?

      We must keep attention on the Astrodome’s plight alive. Houston Mod recently placed it on an Endangered Buildings list, as did Greater Houston Preservation Alliance several years ago. You can sign the “Save Our Astrodome” online petition at ghpa.org.
      In the meantime, our Astrodome waits for the lights to come on, the people to come in and the action to begin again.


    2. 2

      Few buildings personify the difference between the zeitgeist of 1960’s Houston and the present than the Astrodome. Sixties Houston was adventurous, and it’s defining metaphor was space, both palpably contained or infinitely empty. Like that other 1960’s space fantasy identified with Houston, NASA’s man on the moon, the dome was audacious, recklessly expensive, engendered more on the wings of desire than the metrics of need. Ironically, sadly, we have never put another man on the moon or any other extraterrestrial body, and no one seems to have a use for the moth-balled former 8th wonder of the world. Its last hurrah was to serve as a huge spare room for putting up 25,000 Louisianans fleeing Karina and the comparatively slummy accommodations of the NO Super Dome.

      There are two things to keep in mind about the dome. First, its essence is that mega sized, ineluctable, air conditioned, volume inside. Second is the fact that the dome is fundamentally useless, a claim similar to the one Roland Barthe makes for the Eiffel Tower. Its inutility is a scandal. But once you get over it you realize that trying to turn the dome into a shopping mall, a parking garage, a hotel, or maybe a mega church for the Osteens who seems to appreciate the ecclesiastical potentials for ever larger houses of worship, is never going to be a money-maker or a good, functional, business solution to anything. Leaving aside the fact that in accomplishing these schemes there would be very little dome left. This leaves the perfectly reasonable, unreasonable idea to simply preserve it and hold it in reserve, a little world apart: A place of wonder, where you can take an air-conditioned walk, watch a movie with 30,000 others, climb, dream of a plan to snare the Olympics, play every game known to humankind, invent some new ones, provide shelter for the population a medium-sized city. Speculate.


    3. 3

      As a lifelong baseball fan, I have many good memories of attending Astros games at the Dome, sitting in the bleachers with my Dad. The Astrodome is a county facility and county officials will make the final decision on its fate; as a city official, I have not analyzed the proposals for re-purposing the Dome, so I cannot say which one would be best. Still, I would hate to see something that has been such an important part of Houston and a big part of many Houstonians’ memories demolished. As Mayor, I will stand ready to offer any assistance requested by county officials in helping find new life for the Astrodome.


    4. 4

      Hello Ms. McDermott-Hamm, and Professor Webb.

      It is undeniable that the ‘dome’s iconicity is more evocative than probably any other building in town, and with multiple readings= Is it a spaceship or a modern version a la Americana of the Pantheon in Rome?

      As Prof. Webb points out, it went from being a “producer of hope” about the city’s great future to a “producer of nostalgia” about the city’s great past. That nostalgia is preventing everybody from tearing it down, but it is evident that it has to be re-conceived and re-occupied soon enough, before the land is worth more than the building itself is. That’s Land Speculation 101.

      Given the size of the building, probably it has to be done by a private consortium -a group of companies- or by the government.

      Now, putting it in the bigger context, there is a plan to build high-speed rail lines all over the country within the next the 10 years, and Houston definitely needs a station.

      Why don’t we make it our own “Gare du ‘dome” then?

      Why don’t we make it the “gateway” to the city? The first thing a traveler sees when the get off the train? Think about it = it is conveniently located next to the loop 610 and next to a light rail station. And it already has lots and lots of parking.

      And it is conveniently located south of town, making it easier to have a high speed rail line going to Galveston as well.

      I’m thinking that the size of the building would allow to have a complimentary function as well. One that would serve as the transition between the train and the city itself. Maybe a Welcome Center and a Museum of the City, together with commercial leasable space, to help offset maintenance costs?

      Just a thought…..


    5. 5

      I worry about timing. The Dome needs an expansive zeitgeist, an era when all things seem possible.

      I miss those days.


    6. 6

      I think Bruce Webb’s first paragraph really nails the contrast between the starry-eyed sixties and the (allegedly) pragmatic present, but Alfonso Hernandez’s proposed solution (turning it into a train station) allows a synthesis and redefinition of all those elements–the starry-eyed hope of green jobs and environmental betterment through the recycling of this building into a mass transit hub. I’m all for it!

      That space, though–that massive void inside–it really is sublime in that jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, terror-inducing way. Makes you feel puny, but then you think that it was people who made it, and then you come back around to Neil Armstrong’s quote from the moon about man/kind and you’re back where Bruce Webb started.

      But Madeleine McDermott is also right to point out that it is dwarfed by Reliant Stadium. I can’t help but speculate how many Astrodomes could fit inside Reliant each time I see them. I hope that something cool is done with that awesome scoreboard, at the very least. (Install it in the old Goodyear Blimp hangar and turn it into a massive light installation/night club? Heck yes!)

      I was thinking about AstroWorld as I was driving past the complex last week when I really saw, for the first time in years, the bridge that took you from the parking lot, over the South Loop, to what is now a huge, empty lot. It’s Houston’s own Bridge to Nowhere (or Bridge to Imagined Possibilities With Overpriced Hot Dogs and Corporate Branding, if you will).

      That said, according to the Discovery Channel’s “Life After People,” the Astrodome is going to turn into a massive bat shelter/greenhouse with the bats’ guano feeding the plants that will eventually crumble it and return it to the swamp that it was built on. So, the way I see it, Harris County is just taking the long view. They’re just metaphysical like that.


    7. 7

      Three months ago, our company submitted an official proposal to Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation for the transformation of the Astrodome into a major motion picture production facility called Astrodome Studios. We are simply waiting on their decision. Our investors are waiting. Our project is privately funded and will cost taxpayers nothing. However, as it sits there we estimate it costs taxpayers an average of $300,000 per month to rust.

      The Astrodome is so perfectly suited to become a studio complex that it is almost mythical. The ball field (which will remain a field!)lends itself to the construction of any set imaginable – from a whole town to a galaxy – all in air-conditioned comfort. (At least 14 productions have been shot there over the years, so this is proven ground.) The surrounding concourse/concession areas, on several levels, are ideal to become production offices, recording studios and rehearsal halls, storefronts for camera and equipment rental,lighting and electrical. There’s room for talent agencies, mill workshops, caterers, costumers, and two museums (one for the Dome itself and the amazing events that have happened under its famed roof, and another for Texas Film & Broadcast History which has been woefully neglected. Next year will mark the 100th year Texas has been in the motion picture business). It is exciting and fitting that a city known for its museums can soon have two more!

      There is 600,000 square feet of space in the concourse areas alone. That’s equivalent to an 18-20 story office building; we have tenants wanting to move their businesses there NOW – from a television station to talent agencies to a local production company and a lighting company.

      The beauty of our proposal is that it requires so little modification of this architectural wonder. We NEED a building that is not much more than a warehouse. Aside from building out the concourse areas, the rest will be mostly upgrading the utilities, repairing the roof,and getting the building spit and polished. The outside will look much the same, yet landscaped and primped to shine once again. We will work in phases, and the first will be to get the building suitable for occupancy. We can open our doors for business within a couple of months.

      Not only is the venue perfect for production, the location of the venue is perfect. The Astrodome sits on a major loop connecting to major freeways and in between two major airports. Direct flights from LA and New York (home to many production companies) abound daily. The Port of Houston allows supplies to be brought from any corner of the world.

      Engineer Lorrie Foreman, Senior VP of Irvine Team, is confident that our project is more than feasible for the Dome’s new life. She ought to know, as her conversion of the Compaq Center into Lakewood Church was the first-ever enclosed sports stadium transformation. She also was in charge of the Albert Thomas Convention Center’s conversion into the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Lorrie knows the fire code violations that currently prevent the Astrodome’s usage aren’t nearly the handicap they appear to be. She’s been down that road before.

      The timing is also perfect. Texas legislators just passed three new bills that provide production incentives to companies who would like to shoot here. These incentives, in the form of grants, put Texas squarely back into the competition for lucrative movies and television production as well as video game, documentary, commercial, interactive production. All we need now is a large-scale facility to snare our portion of an $885 BILLION dollar industry (in 2008) that is projected to hit the $1 TRILLION mark in 2010-2011.

      Our proposal is uniquely flexible to the needs of Reliant Park’s major tenants, the Houston Texans and the Rodeo. We have met favorably with the presidents of both and can plan our production schedule around their events. Our business will not create the parking and traffic problems that other proposals might. Lorrie Foreman has already identified space within the Dome for 500 cars, about the average number on a production. We also see ways to create additional parking on the Astrodome’s footprint that would benefit the Texans and eliminate some of their parking headaches. We will be good neighbors and want to share.

      Let’s talk jobs and revenue. Our business is a manufacturing industry, so consider that our “plant” is going to hire a lot of workers at higher-than-average pay and purchase supplies from the surrounding area much as any plant would to operate. The average production budget of a movie is $53 million. The typical “leave behind” (amount spent in the community) is about 1/3. So one movie leaves about $17 million in local pockets. Spiderman 3 shot one scene in Cleveland, Ohio and hired 1000 local extras impacting their economy by a cool $5 million. The TV series Prison Break, shot in the north Dallas area, employed about 600 people for an entire season of production. I have many colleagues who worked on that one. Currently, those colleagues are working on films in Oklahoma and Louisiana. Why? Because Texas has not, until now, had competitive incentives to drive the production business here, nor has it had a major production facility to attract major productions.

      It is our sincere hope, that County officials will immediately and seriously look into the advantages of the Astrodome becoming a production facility which will not only be a visionary use for the building it will bring new business here that for once is not oil, gas, or medical. It will diversify our economy and put the Eighth Wonder of the World back on the map. Help us reach out to County Commissioners. Someone can really get behind this project and become a hero.


    8. 8

      My concern about the film production studio and hotel plans are that they turn a public space into a far more privately-controlled one. I’m more attracted to ideas that treat the Dome as a commons like an indoor park or railway station. If the building provides a good service to people in Harris County, the tax expense is justified.

      The Astrodome was never really an architectural accomplishment but one of engineering. What people love about it is the shared experience of the vast interior as Harbeer captured. So saving the exterior while privatizing the interior is preserving the wrong thing.


    9. 9

      I grew up in Houston and have so many fond memories of the Dome; the Destruction Derdys, the Astros Games, the football games (what was their name?). i remeber as a younkg kid driving in from Deer Park with my family and watching from a long ways off as the “Dome” came in to view and then grew and grew in size until I was standing out side of it and staring up awe-struck. Then to go inside and to be just overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. Looking up at the catwalks and wishing that I could go out on them to the center of the dome (that is a tourist stop in itself). I have to tell at five years old it was the coolest thing going to the “Dome”.

      There are plenty of good ideas out there for the reuse of the Astrodome, but I think that Cynthia Neely and her group have the best idea for the near the future us eof the “Dome”. I went there as a kid and saw some great shows, things I will will relive in memories for the rest of my life. if they really have the funding and the ability to move forward as fast as they say they can, then by all means that is a great start.

      Alfonso Hernandez is a friend of mine and i think that the use of the dome for a Rail Station is a “Grand Idea”. It is certianly a fitting way to arrive at the 4th largest city in the US. the “Dome” exemplifies hte rgand ideas of Houston. But as seen in the on going debate for high speed rail, it is not going to happen anytime soon, as much as some of us feel this country needs it.

      By that time will there be enough of the structure still usable to use it for a station? It is hard to say. I do know from my own observations and studies and projects while in school that a building that is left unoccupied is a building on a fast track to reclaimation by mother nature. She starts moving in immediately when a structure is not maintained. I would bet if you went and took a close look at the Astrodome as it stands today you find plenty of areas where nature is already moving in.

      So with all that said I think that best way to preserve the “Dome” is to get it back into use as fast as possible. If that is to make a film production lot and movie center then I say that is a good first step. Just be sure that it is not closed off from the public. And open up the catwalks to public tours of the center of the dome. I would pay to do that.


    10. 10

      Houston needs a *climate-controlled* town square – the Houston Community Dome – where large-scale public events can be held without risk of rain, cold, or especially heat. It should specifically focus on international cultures and commerce, enhancing Houston’s reputation as global city.

      Non-Rodeo/Texan weekends:
      •Cultural festivals
      •Massive vendor marketplace
      •Leisure Learning classes (like a mega-multiplex theater: just show up and pick from dozens)
      •Country and culture exhibits
      •Concert events

      Weekdays:
      •William Clayton International Center
      o Consulate offices and Intl Trade Fairs
      o Gathering place for the 800+ different international organizations of Houston

      This avoids the Texans+Rodeo conflicts that have hampered other concepts.

      Might even be able to clear the painted roof panels to enable a live park and/or freeze-proof tropical botanical gardens.

      This is a bottom-up, bootstrapped approach to preservation. Attract people to the facility, for any number of uses, and the revenue for maintenance, preservation, and enhancement will come, primarily from parking charges ($8 per vehicle).

      As Raj mentioned, I think there is a lot of political will for a public use. The ideal might be to combine this concept with the private, financially-backed studio concept, if that can be done practically. It could be the best of both worlds: public support and use along with private money and organization.


    11. 11

      Astrodome Studios will be a wonderful combination of public and private use. We have two museums planned – one for Astrodome history and another for Texas’ film and broadcast history – as well as a movie theater connected to the museums that can additionally be used for public events such as fund-raisers, speakers/forums, political debates, awards events, fashion shows, and so on). One of the chief concerns of the Rodeo and Texans is the amount of public traffic and parking of any new use of the Dome. Our project has, what we feel, is a comfortable and realistic combination of both public and private use. And yes, Astrodome Studios would be able to do business in a matter of months.


    12. 12

      Public tours are also planned, but unfortunately the grand scoreboard that another writer mentioned, has long been gone. It is being preserved on film however, in our company’s first production -a documentary on the Astrodome itself and already in the works. A trailer can be viewed at http://www.thedomemovie.com. You’ll recognize some famous faces. We don’t need a physical building to create productions under our own Astrodome Studios Productions banner.


    13. 13

      Hello Ms Neely. I have to confess that I was mesmerized by your excellent presentation, and I almost bought it.

      Although I still don’t buy it because -a lesson learned with Enron and its two empty towers downtown- it doesn’t offer me a worst case scenario = What would happen to the building if your company goes belly-up, as companies sometimes do nowadays? It would again sit empty and decaying and we would be having another online forum about a building that was great in the past….

      Plus, Raj has a point. By this configuration the only free access areas -not public areas- would be the Museums and not the “field” under the dome, which is the interesting part. A building with public access doesn’t mean it is a “public space”. The Galleria is not a public space, Memorial Park is.

      Randy, I hear you, a high-speed rail station like that will indeed be a grand project, but weren’t IAH and the Beltway 8 grand projects as well? And this is not even half the size of IAH, we just have to get on the bandwagon…


    14. 14

      I completely understand the valid concern that our project, or any project whatsoever in the Dome, might go “belly up.” There are no guarantees that hotels, planetariums, science institutes,festivals, etc. etc. are forever successful. Our proposal has two distinct advantages. One is that we will begin in phases and require very little alteration to the interior of the building other than improve it. It doesn’t take much for us to be open for business. If all we have is the ball field we can begin production. We would upgrade the building to meet occupancy codes and then begin building out some of the concourse levels, a few at a time on an as-needed basis. We have companies (with industry-relevant services) who want to rent space in these build-outs. If success continues, we would move toward creating the museums and movie theater in the concourse areas. Even at that stage nothing would have been done to the building that would make it uninhabitable by some other venture.

      A second advantage we have is that our industry has proven time and again (and I have the data to back this statement up) to be recession-proof. Even during the Great Depression people bought movie tickets and commercials and newsreels still rolled. It was the cheapest form of escape during those terrible times. This year is expected to break all-time box office records IN HISTORY, despite the downturn. As long as their are televisions, movie theaters, cable networks, pay-per-view, commercials, industrials/corporate videos, training videos, the U.S. Military, documentaries, animation, video games, music recording, the Internet, You Tube, cell phones and whatever the next viewing technology brings, there will be the need for production of content. Movies are only one facet of the motion picture production industry. It just takes a fewer of them to make a lot of money. So far, Texas has been making movies for 100 years. The industry world-wide doesn’t show any signs of stopping.


    15. 15

      In regard to “the interesting part” (the best part!) the ball field – – it can be made accessible to the public for events as much as possible with scheduling around major productions. Since those types of productions are usually scheduled far in advance, we would hope that the field could be kept busy to benefit the community as much as feasible in between.


    16. 16

      Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but weren’t the Enron towers leased in 2008 to Chevron?


    17. 17

      Considering it landed in ’65 it could land else wheres within Harris county in the future.

      My solution is to take the roof off and synthesize it for a new exibition hall or maybe something as ambitious as an umbrella structure for an outdoor aerospace museum. The residual structure can then be utilized as another outdoor arena (like the Coliseum) or other repurposing (like a parking lot).

      Sometimes you have to be brave enough to make your own history and I get a distinct notion that many folks are scared to do anything with the Astrodome and this is reflected in it’s current deteriorating condition.


    18. 18

      Hi Madeleine –

      Imagine touching base with you again…on this forum.

      The Chronicle Design section has not been the same since you retired. Everyone in the design community misses your smart, savvy byline and cutting edge stories.

      I am so glad to see you leading the charge to “save the Astrodome”.

      I am now a proud member of team Astrodome Studios, led by our fearless leaders Elise Hendrix and Cynthia Neely. These awe inspiring women have singlehandedly fought this battle for almost two years. Along the way, they have converted a loyal band of volunteers whose sole mission is to save the Dome.

      The initial vision for turning the Astrodome into a feature film studio began with Elise Hendrix, a powerhouse of a young woman. She is tireless in the pursuit of bringing a feature studio to Houston and has ties to numerous areas of production as well as keen insight into the business of entertainment.

      You might also recognize Cynthia Neely’s name as she has been around the film industry in Houston for umpteen years, and is the former president of Women in Film- Houston. She is a well known and a respected authority within the entertainment industry in Texas as well as an actress and screenwriter.

      Astrodome Studios DOES have the funding (investors) and tremendous support within the community at large. The University of Houston’s school of communication is quite excited about the prospect of a an “in-city studio” as it means their students would be able to intern not only in Houston but within the state instead of going to the west or east coasts.

      So what is stopping this well thought out and planned dream from becoming a reality? The county…

      Our presentation was ably made three months ago. THREE MONTHS…

      All we need is a green light and Astrodome Studios can be up and running. It would mean new jobs to this area and excitement unlike anything the city has seen since the Astrodome opened.

      Our feature production under the banner Astrodome Studios is a documentary entitled “The Dome”. We recently had a showing of the trailer and it was met with enthusiasm and excitement. But more than that…it was met with pride. I watched Deenie Hofheinz’s eyes fill with tears as she viewed the trailer and saw her father on screen. It was so heartwarming and made me especially proud to be a member of team Astrodome Studios.

      With the new incentive package recently approved by the Texas legislature and recently signed into law by Governor Perry, Texas sits poised to once again be a frontrunner in the production of feature films and gain a chunk of the billions of dollars spent each year filming and making movies.

      What better use could come to “our proud lady” than to once again put Houston, Texas on the map with the largest feature film studio under a single roof…in the country.

      We need a greenlight, Madeleine. Help us get it.

      Warmest regards always,
      Mary Lynn Mabray, ASID


    19. 19

      City Museum

      I’ll support any idea that allows us to keep the Dome, but selfishly I continue to return to one of the oldest suggestions made in this debate. In a 2003 Houston Chronicle editorial, Peter Marzio, Director of the MFAH, asked us to imagine “the most famous city museum in the world”. The Astrodome’s iconic nature, size, originality, awe and its own place in history would make it a perfect venue for The Houston History Museum. History within History.

      The Dome is voluminous enough to hold a full-size oil derricks and a complete Space Shuttle assembly. Not only could historic homes and buildings be located on the floor, entire blocks of town could be replicated or even moved there.

      As a museum, it would remain a public building accessible to all. With a nod to Rodeo and Texans (which seem to have issues with most ideas for the Dome), the museum could have an extensive Rodeo History exhibit as well the Houston Sports Hall of Fame that somehow was left out of all three of our newest sports venues. The Houston History Museum would be a natural fit for grade school Texas History curriculum and other history class field trips. There would be opportunities to promote other area museums and attractions using this museum as an introduction to the region. Shared and on-loan exhibits from other area museums in town would be possible as most can only show a fraction of their collections because of space limitations.

      We have an opportunity to tell our collective story in the most imaginative way possible.


    20. 20

      A little more than a year ago, we set out to preserve the legacy of the Dome by creating a documentary film. Our objective was simple, to construct with a care and precision, a living testament to this building that has given so much to our city, and to our personal lives.

      Since we began production, we’ve realized how short sighted we were about “The Dome.” This is more than a historical DVD for our children. It’s more than a stroll down memory lane. It’s about our identity, restoring pride, and ultimately (hopefully) re-creating this building as a newer version of itself…as a modernized 8th Wonder of the World.

      Cynthia and Elise have been tireless in their dedication to Astrodome Studios. They have created a brilliant plan for the Dome’s future…something that will not only preserve the Dome, but also enhance it’s history. In many ways, they share the same pioneering vision that Judge Hofheinz and R.E. Bob Smith had when they built the Dome.

      As a filmmaker, I’ve seen firsthand the talent flight to Louisiana and New Mexico. I’ve seen the scarcity of production in our state. This is a great opportunity, not just for our iconic building, but for our city, and for Texas.

      I would encourage you to visit the Astrodome Studios website, and visit our site, http://www.thedomemovie.com, for a glimpse at what can be done at this new venue.

      Chip Rives
      Director, The Dome


    21. 21

      There is room in Astrodome Studios plan for other museums (in addition to our proposed two that would include Sports as part of the Dome museum); we have even already considered a couple of other museums.

      I am proud to say that the Texans and Rodeo do not have a problem with our project. (We’ve met favorably with the presidents of both organizations.) We are working WITH their needs in mind. I believe we are unique in this regard.


    22. 22

      It was reported yesterday that personal incomes in the Houston region average $48,000 (well above the national average). Average income of those who work in our production industry is $80,600 (WAY, WAY above the national average). Astrodome Studios will provide jobs and educational opportunities (communications departments of U of H, HCC, TSU to name a few) and pump millions into the economy while also providing the public with excellent museums, tours, a truly special movie theater, and access to the ball field for events as much as feasible and still run our business.


    23. 23

      Cynthia Neely: I think we all appreciate your enthusiasm for your project, but you appear to have now hijacked this board and to be monopolizing the conversation. While that is clearly your intent, I don’t think it’s conducive to a free-flowing conversation about all the possibilities if you keep trying to bring it back to your project.


    24. 24

      I agree that the comments from Cynthia Neely and others developing the Astrodome Studios proposal are very much appreciated.

      One strand of the discussion I’d like to see get picked up again is about why the possible destruction of the Astrodome hits people in the gut so much. Bruce Webb wrote: “In the end, saving the Dome comes down to a matter of public desire more than need. It’s really a question of what is fundamentally worth saving about the Dome. Just as Roland Barthes was able to reduce the Eiffel tower to a single abstraction, the Astrodome, arguably an inelegant object of comparison, can be summed up in terms of the ineluctable, irreducible, platonic space inside of it. The challenge is to conserve rather than erase the Dome’s phenomenal properties.”

      While I agree with Professor Webb, another way to understand the desire to save the Dome is the accretion of visceral memories. Something like, “My daddy would take me to the baseball games there every season until he died.” It doesn’t have to do with what it is used for or whether you can really go inside so much as it is that the building is a marker of family histories, first kisses, euphoric concerts, how it felt to belong to an ambitious city. That in a provisional city, where everything you know might be torn down tomorrow, one permanent marker means everything.

      If you go to the GHPA petition, that’s the kind of comment you find.


    25. 25

      The Passion and Compassion and Brain Power are still alive and well with those of us who
      are determined to keep our Astrodome on Life Support until we come up with The Cure for Her.

      And we will. Let’s remember that Success comes in cans not can’ts.

      It will take some more patience to care so deeply FOR our Patient , Our ASTRODOME. The economy WILL turn around and perhaps our Beloved Grand Dame will even get Health Care. LOL

      I am reading with enormous interest every single entry. Each quite eloquent. Darned near EVERY idea in this column could work together with the County, CIty… and State to get our Lady up and running eventually. This will take much planning and a cohesive co-ordination of tireless effort to bring all the elements together. We CAN do this!

      My Dad, Judge Roy Hofheinz created ASTRODOMAIN by connecting The ASTRODOME with ASTROWORLD….( ah, that crossbridge …) then on over to The Astroworld Hotel Complex. It was a one-stop shoppe for visitors from all over the World. Y’all know. What you may NOT know is that when Dad sadly had a stroke, he was still dreaming of the AstroRails he would build all over his beloved Houston/Harris County to accommodate traffic from Astrodomain to any and everywhere in all of Harris County…. probably even throughout the State…maybe even beyond, knowing his expansive imagination…Much like the Metro track is trucking us around on the ground, Daddy dreamed of transporting us UP in the SKY. Thinkin’ High! ASTROeverything. Levitating traffic. Try to just imagine his imagination. Had he lived, it most likely would have happened. I do believe that.

      Since it must be harder to get these things OFF THE GROUND literally these daze, you’d think that with a Master Plan we could run that Metro Rail From The AstroDOME (and OUT OF THE WAY OF THE RODEO AND TEXANS where they need access for their fans) while at the same time, facilitating Astrodome Studios as they create movie sets for motion pictures like Brewster McCloud directed by Robert Altman…all kinds of movies…(thanks, Cyn and Elise)…while incorporating the Museums and other venues of interest…and last, but not least, also accommodating Fairs and the like that have been mentioned by our Judge Emmett. When it rains, it pours. Come on INSIDE, Folks. ALL of this could work somehow In Tandem.

      But we need more time. And dinero, of course. AND we need a Great Leader! It is my understanding that WHEN our State of Texas finally makes The Astrodome a Historic Monument, she’ll be safe from that ol’ Demon, demolition. It is absolutely imperative to continue to get as many signatures as possible on the GHPA website (Thanks, Madeleine). And to try every other means possible to reach The Governor Governor Governor—and whoever else might be in charge of making the decision to do the right thing and declare our Lady The Historic Treasure that She is. Just sign the line. Sir…or M’am. Re-invent the word, “Visionary.”

      Whoever signs such an authorization is my Hero just as my Dad was my Hero for answering my question as a ten-year-old little girl who liked spending time with her busy Daddy who was Mayor of Houston after he was County Judge. What was my question? Well, we’d been given one raincheck too many out at Ol Buff Stadium which cut our time short. “LIttle Doll” as he called me, was frustrated.

      On the ride home in a storm I asked Daddy, “Why can’t we play baseball indoors?”
      He accused me of having taken his smart pills. HE didn’t answer that innocent question with
      platitudes. HE answered it with a RESULT. Through Action, Perseverance, Focus. Co-operation. Hard Work, Bond Campaigns. Whatever it took to make it happen. SO, my question now is, “Who’s in charge here?

      May I approach the bench, your Honor?

      WE ALL need to cry out now, “Make The ASTRODOME an Historic Monument.”
      This will buy us time to Plan. And plan and Plan. To Do This. And That. And the Other. In the planning, so many Dreams can come together if those of us who truly care DO come together as a strong , winning Team. I say, “Play ball!”

      Count me In.
      Dene Hofheinz Anton


    26. 26

      Once the Eight Wonder of the World, the Astrodome achieved landmark status the moment its doors first opened. Like the 2nd century Roman Pantheon, the Dome is not just a work of engineering and invention. Perhaps because the geometry is simple enough and thus more abstract, the space transcends mere function. The Dome enclosure was also built on gumption. To beat the Houston heat, the dome was constructed to be the first air-conditioned sports arena. Such was the case with the Galleria Shopping Mall and the downtown Houston tunnel system. Concepts that have endured to this day with only slight modifications. The historical prescient, happenings and audacity of the Domes enclosure represents the highest aspirations of the sixties era. This makes the Dome one of the best time capsules our culture can retain deserving of a UNESCO world heritage designation.

      What to do with an abandoned building is always a difficult dilemma. The Pantheon survived demolition in the 7th century by converting the Roman temple into a Christian church. On the out skirts of Rome, I once saw a similar domed church surrounded by chain link fencing with public transportation buses parked within. Seeing a remarkable structure reduced to a barn wasn’t very inspiring, but the structure was still standing and had a function.

      To give the Dome a new lease on life, the site and nearby adjacencies must be considered. Whatever the answer is, the Dome should rise from the ashes of abandonment to again be the first or largest of its kind. This wouldn’t necessarily involve a complete transformation of the facility and could be as simple as cleaning the skylights, planting grass and converting the structure into the largest indoor dog park in the world. It would take Dubai, ten years to make a bigger one and by then a more permanent solution could be found.
      Another idea might be to excavate the field and install the largest indoor pool in the world. The resulting Natatorium could be fitted with a retractable cover to still provide the Rodeo and tax payers open space for other events just like the Coliseum. Parking and quick access can be improved by developing a localized tram similar to the one at the airport connecting the major Reliant facilities to the existing city rail system and remote parking, a concept the Rodeo officials have proven via bus. Did I mention the Olympics?
      Another key issue that could benefit any successful Dome conversion is the fate of the former Six Flags property. If a mixed development containing working, shopping, living and hotels could be successfully conceived with a legitimate sense of place, the Reliant complex and Houston as a whole would benefit. This was the idea behind the 1990’s conception of Astrominium. After all, one major accomplishment of the Dome was it established a sense of place in a city void of significant public spaces. The idea of a small city-state within the protective enclosure of the Dome following a worldwide ecological disaster interested me. How will we live if the outside air is not healthy to breath? Will we live in underground cities or large domed open spaces where we can see and be seen? I’ll go with “Bucky” on this on.

      Ultimately, the Dome can provide enclosure for many different programs; it can even be a place to live, play and work. Given the number of allergy suffers, we wouldn’t necessarily have to wait for a disaster to create the need. The removal of the upper seating to become shopping, workspace and living units would greatly reduce the occupant load and perhaps solve some of the existing code issues. Of course it would also have to have an Astro Lodge.

      In future, if we are able to create significant places to live, play and work linked with effective transportation, Houston will have no problem attracting the Olympics, capital and prosperity. Whatever happens to the Astrodome, I hope the pride of the city endures for our own sake.


    27. 27

      What interesting, thoughtful and sometimes exciting comments. I’m like Dene Hofheinz Anton (the ultimate enthusiast) — every one sounds good. Surely, with so much love for our Astrodome, there is a way to save and revive this world-famous Houston landmark.

      Speaking of status as an official Texas historic landmark, request for such designation has to originate with the owner, in this case Harris County. If the county wants to make such a proposal, I’m sure there would be plenty of volunteers eager to help prepare the nomination. Landmark status, however, does not mean a structure cannot be torn down.

      With our “Save Our Astrodome” campaign, GHPA (Greater Houston Preservation Alliance)is attempting to bring attention to the need to bring the Dome back to life, rather than see it decay and eventually be demolished. We are not supporting any one plan, just appropriate action that will preserve the Dome’s architectural integrity.

      I appreciated Harbeer’s reference to the “jaw-dropping” interior space. Every time I walked into the Dome, I felt that thrill — and especially when I was fortunate to stand on the floor of the 18-stories-high interior. You know, if they had excavated Reliant Stadium as deep as they did the Dome, it wouldn’t appear to be so much larger.

      Among the ideas I found intriguing:

      * Alfonso Hernandez’s giant train station, the gateway to our city.

      * Tory Gattis’ “climate controlled town square.”

      * Tim Murray’s Houston History Museum. Loved the phrase “history within history.”

      Team Astrodome Studios certainly has great ideas, energy and enthusiasm and, apparently, all its “ducks in a row.” (Hello Mary Lynn!) Perhaps the biggest hurdle is getting the go-ahead from the county.

      A public space would be perfect, but a privately-funded project may be the only answer. One thing we all agree on: Something needs to happen soon.

      And be sure to sign GHPA’s petition. There’s a link above or go to ghpa.org.

      Madeleine McDermott Hamm


    28. 28

      I read much pie-in-the-sky social-engineering comments here, especially beginning with Raj. It is if some would rather have a “public space” (whatever that really means) than a functional business serving its fellow humans.

      Harris Co. would be wise to stick with the risk-taking capitalist ideals which built both Houston and the Astrodome than to head down the socialist thought lines put forth by some.

      If it is a government run facility (not so sexy when you put it that way) then something such as the giant railway and transport station makes more sense than an artificial gather place for grant-funded festivals.


    29. 29

      To be clear, the festivals would not be grant funded, and would be expected to generate enough revenue every year (especially from parking charges) to cover all Dome maintenance and improvements. Instead of being government run, a nonprofit entity with fund-raising capability would be created to run the Dome, similar to the Houston zoo, museums, and performing arts centers.

      Here are some data points, estimates, and revenue sources:

      •Houston International Festival: 500k visitors, 10 days
      •Pearland flea market: 1,300 vendors, 15-20k visitors each weekend
      •Traders Village: 4 million per year (in all sorts of weather)

      We believe 50 to 100,000 visitors on each non-Texan/Rodeo weekend is achievable, or roughly 1.5 to 3 million visitors per year, supplying a substantial revenue stream for Astrodome maintenance, preservation, and enhancement.

      Revenue Sources: parking, entrance fees, special event tickets, annual season passes and discount memberships (like the Natural Science Museum), marketplace vendor fees, food and drink sales, advertising, and sponsorships.

      Of course, these could be in addition to the Studios revenue in a combined joint-use facility.


    30. 30

      Thanks to everyone who participated in this forum on the future of our Astrodome.

      I want to amend something I wrote earlier in reference to having the Astrodome named an official historic landmark. Whether it is placement on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service or designation as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission, the owner must approve the nomination in advance of submission. The nomination can come from a non-owner, such as a historical organization, but the owner must agree. Designation will not be given if the owner objects.

      Both National Park Service and Texas Historical Commission have previously deemed the Astrodome eligible for landmark designation. Such recognition could provide federal preservation tax credits to a renovation proposal that respects the building’s historic integrity. It would not prohibit demolition.

      The Astrodome should be designated a Texas Historic Landmark. It should be listed on the National Register. Why hasn’t Harris County, owner of the Astrodome, sought such prestigious honors?

      Our disposable society has extended its throw-away mentality far beyond plastic water bottles and out-of-date computers to colossal sports stadiums in recent years. We can’t let this happen here. We must recycle OUR Astrodome.

      Madeleine McDermott Hamm
      Chairman, GHPA “Save Our Astrodome” campaign


    31. 31

      A few years ago, Kerry Whitehead and I worked on a proposal we called AstroCity. Originally an entry in a one-day design competition run by the RDA in 2001, it has one advantage over most other Astrodome redevelopment ideas we’ve heard of: It’s already had a trial run.

      What’s AstroCity? It’s the Astrodome, redeveloped into a small city. Not a shopping center, not a condo, not a hotel, not a town square, not a tourist attraction, but something that would have aspects of all of them, mixed together. A place with schools and Starbucks and condos and apartments and parks and stores.

      People would live, eat, shop, work, study, and buy and sell property under the Dome, indoors. The place is more than 9 full acres. You can fit a whole lot of people inside. Roofs would be optional. And where else could you buy a building lot that already comes air-conditioned?

      For a number of years after we presented our idea, a few local reporters liked to include it in regular “What’s going to happen to the Astrodome?” features. It was a cute concept, and it made for good copy. None of us expected that we’d see any of it actually happen — so soon.

      Then came Hurricane Katrina. When evacuees from New Orleans started moving into the Astrodome for emergency shelter, our first instinct was to volunteer. What we saw there was amazing, something that all Houstonians can be proud of. Those two weeks in September 2005 were many things to the 17,000 or so people who lived there and to the countless local residents, businesses, government agencies, and workers who pitched in to make things happen. But they transformed everyone’s concept of Houston and its Dome.

      Within days, the Astrodome had functioning banks and basketball courts, stores and government offices, weddings, eating places, kiddie play areas and day care, a library, medical facilities, school bus stops, and parades. And its own zip code. What Houston created there was like a small city. It wasn’t particularly close to the version Kerry and I had envisioned — ours would have a parking area and a mall on the lower levels, for example; and we imagined buildings and streets across the main floor, not rows and rows of cots. The circumstances were certainly very different. But both show off what we still consider to be the Astrodome’s — and Houston’s — best characteristic: the willingness to dream, to imagine a future others can’t. And the courage to get in the lead and make it happen.


    32. 32

      “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has characterized outspoken protests at town hall meetings on health care as “astroturf” — or disingenuous grassroots advocacy organized by conservative opponents.” Josh Rhett Miller, FOXNews.com

      “Oh, and “grassroots” efforts — where interest groups drum up vocal support from customers or the public in a practice often derided as Astroturf lobbying — doesn’t count as lobbying at all, no matter who does it.” Theo Francis, Buisiness Week

      “I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the AstroTurf nature of so-called grassroots lobbying.” Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary August 4th White House Briefing

      “Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organize the town hall mobs. Key organizers include two Astroturf (fake grass-roots) organizations….” Paul Krugman, New York Times

      After reading the umpteenth article in the week’s news about AstroTurf organizations and AstroTurf lobbying, I feel compelled to post. In a collision of definitions, I’m reminded that only in Houston can AstroTurf be considered something truly positive. While I get the current wave of references to synthetic turf fakery, we (Houstonians, natives and imports) all know it is really an icon for problem solving – a product born out of the instinct and ingenuity to get the job done and not just throw up your arms in defeat when it’s not working. Let’s take the term back, back to it’s original roots, something that perfectly embodies the pioneering spirit native to Houston and Houston alone – the only land that can truly call that synthetic grass native and recognize that as a real asset.

      That’s just it. We know how to invent our way out of trouble. We survive, synthetically or otherwise.

      What does the rest of the country know about AstroTurf? They can’t even agree on spelling! Doesn’t it make you cringe when you see the question asked “Grassroots or AstroTurf?”
      It’s an excellent opportunity to reflect on what makes this city tick, lest we forget about our own brand of speculation and ingenuity. We will never have a more poetic opportunity for reinvention as recycling the Astrodome, one of many, but perhaps the most visible and public, proofs of cowboy (I mean Oiler) know-how. Yes, Oiler know-how, because Cowboys use horse sense, and horse sense would have scrapped the plans on that much energy guzzling air conditioning before it even got built. That’s one reason why the Astrodome is in Houston and not in Dallas.

      Where is the next generation of AstroTurfers in this city? I think Neely’s group might be one of them. Folks sharing their thoughts on this post represent an outcropping of more. How do we inspire and motivate the next Judge Hofheinz and the private sector into taking a chance on a good idea? Where are the speculators willing to jump off the barge from mosquito infested bayous and onto swampland, able to see a future for the Astrodome – the folks who believe that if green doesn’t grow at first, there is always AstroTurf, a real game saver?

      AstroTurf didn’t exist before the Dome. Thinking and invention certainly didn’t fade in the face of the failure of grass to grow. We pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, grab our hat, and get back up on the horse. OK, again with the cowboy analogy. Let me try again. I think it’s perfect that when NASA had a problem, they called Houston. We’re problem solvers. Failure isn’t in our roots. We’ve proven many times that we’re capable of coming up with AstroTurf – trust those AstroTurf instincts, OK? Let’s build. Let’s make some more AstroTurf, naturally.


    33. 33

      i think that you should remodel it and make it the stadium for the houston dynamos.the idea fits because you have the football stadium next door and a convention center and then the reliant arena were artist perform first to see the love of houston fans.i also think that it could make a great place for people to in perform the astrodome.


    34. 34

      plus this stadium is one of houstons’ proud simbles and it was also one of the biggest stadium in the usa when it started and it also demonstrates in how houston has been a great,tall,independant city from the past to the future


    35. 35

      In support of the Astrodome and the new film: http://www.caller.com/news/2009/aug/24/original-dome-heads-big-screen/


    36. 36

      I visisted your great city for the first time in 1972 and was amazed by the Astrodome. It is your Empire State Building, Eifel Tower, Sears Tower ect. I was so impressed, I built a balsa wood model of the building which is now stored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Astrodome is a “hall of fame” moment for baseball and Houston.

      I’m speaking from the heart here, just keep it for future generations to admire. The citizens of Houston of tomorrow will be so proud of you citizens of today that you chose that option. I know that will take a lot of money. However, just imagine New York without a Statue of Liberty or other cities with iconic structures. I love the Dome and I want to see it live, that is my hope. Thank you for letting me share.


    37. 37

      Houston really needs a little Hollywood so I hope the desion is astrodome studio.If it was going to be astrodome studio when will the project start


    38. 38

      [...] to a year ago, Offcite published a popular blogpost around the controversial and much talked-about fate of Houston’s beloved Astrodome that [...]


    39. 39

      There is a newly released book out that deals directly with the future of the Astrodome. It is by a local author. If you want some new ideas for the dome preservation it is a must read. The book is TLC (Tranquility Logistics Corporation). It is by N.S. David. Yeah that’s me, but if you are truely a fan of the dome like I am, I think you will love this work of fiction.


    40. 40

      Why not use the ‘Dome for AA or AAA Baseball? Starting times could be scheduled (day games during the week)to avoid conflict with the Astros. Many major cities have affiliated minor league teams in thier metro area (San Jose and Frisco, Tx. come to mind).
      The ‘Dome might not make alot of money this way, but this would be a flexible way to preserve the 8th Wonder of the World and allow a new generation to discover the fun of watching pro Baseball there.


    41. 41

      I think the astrodome should be restroyed to its pre 88 config and moving events like the rodeo from enron field and realent park would give it some events also u could move the pre season texans games nextdoor and have the astros play 3-5 series back to the astrodome and maby just maby have a oilers preseason game there when texas is out of town


    42. 42

      The Dome is the symbol of Houston. It is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Houston.

      To generate so sort of revenue for itself while it just rots away there could be someone appointed to head a team that leads tours of the Dome just how it is. Yes, it is disgusting and nasty but people are interested and would pay money to go in there and see it. To this day people care about it and what happens to it. It might not make a great deal of money like this but it is a start.

      Another idea is to let the local HISD high school teams play there as well. All of these schools are sharing a limited number of venues to play games. Some teams have to play on Thursday nights or Saturday afternoons due to limited playing availabilities. If you charge the same price to get into the game as it would cost at other stadiums you are still generating some sort of revenue that is not there now.
      People support these inner city teams and would love to see them play in a place of such greatness. I know that I would love to play there if I could. You could host football, basketball, and even baseball games in there. One idea would be to host the HISD basketball tournament there that is held every year. You could get every HISD school to committ and play there and generate a decent amount of money with just this one event. Houston Madison comes to mind when we talk about playing games there. Back when Vince Young was with Madison all of there home games were there. Now you take basketball teams like Houston Yates and there following and you will have a very good turn out.

      If renovated the Dome could be put into consideration for a college football bowl game every year. It could also put in for major college basketball tournament or even a final four. It could host quite a few pre conference games for basketball and football. You could even move the college baseball Minute Maid Classic to the dome.

      I also agree with other people about bringing in another professional sports team to play there. If not full time then at least let the Astros and Texans play a few games a year there and you could call it Retro Week. The series would sell out.

      You can put all of these ideas together and host events year round and just make it one big sporting event that really never ends. People want to come see sporting events in a legendary place like the Dome and yound kids want to play in a plice like the Dome. These ideas won’t make all the money necessary very quickly but over time it would pay for itself like the Dome has done so many times before.

      With all these ideas everybody wins. The Dome lives on. People get to see it.


    43. 43

      The astrodome has the potential to feed the entire population of Houston as the world’s largest indoor hydroponic farm. It could also house the crews (formerly homless and unemployed) necessary to maintain and work the farm. Plenty of space on the field to open the world’s largest indoor farmers market that could produce enough income to pay for salaries of the staff and their housing built within the facility. Funded by the city and open to the world 24 hours a day with potential health food restuarants and Fitness Centers with running tracks providing the carbon monoxide needed to sustain the plants that would in turn provide an abundance of oxygen for the runners. Food banks for the needy could be suplied by the surplus food not sold at the farmers market and to local grocery stores. Tropical plants and nurseries could be leased space and thrive in the environment as well. Any waste from plants could be recycled through composting systems which could in turn be sold to the nurseries. Within a few years the facility could be self sustainable and in a few more years profitable. Meantime preserving history in a very healthy way.


    44. 44

      Please, please, do not tear down the Dome!!!!!!!!!! I have my memories as well as so many others, it would be taking away something so special in our hearts. I think that they should make the Dome a sports museum. Reliant has enough parking. Let us not take something away that is so dear to us.