Astrodome Should Come Down Despite History

Champ Warren ’16

Money pit. Historic. Vacant. These are all words used to describe Houston’s most famous landmark, the Astrodome. Dubbed iconic, ground breaking, and the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Astrodome was the world’s first domed multi-purpose stadium ever constructed. At the time it was considered revolutionary, drawing crowds from all over the United States. This landmark is a part of Houston’s history and one of the most historically important buildings in Houston, if not the whole country. But there is one problem: it’s just sitting there.

The Astrodome has been vacant for eleven years, yet we continue to pump $1.5 million dollars a year to keep it in a somewhat respectable condition. The structure has not earned the county a dollar since 2006 and is wasting away into disrepair. Whatever your opinion may be, it is obvious that something has to be done and soon.

The Astrodome was an idea first conceived by former mayor and county judge Roy Hofheinz after being rained out again at a minor league baseball game in 1952. He made his dream a reality in 1964 with the opening of the world’s first covered air-conditioned stadium. Creatively coined the Harris County Domed Stadium, it hosted the Colt .45’s, Houston’s new MLB team, before being renamed the Astrodome along with the team itself. After a few modifications to the upper panels, the grass began to die because of the lack of sunlight. Enter Astroturf, a new durable, synthetic, nylon grass that would function similarly to normal grass but not require the huge amount of work associated with keeping grass alive in an indoor stadium. From then on the Astrodome hosted teams from the Oilers to the Astros until 1999 when it was no longer used for sporting events. The Astrodome finally closed its doors in 2006.

For eight years the Astrodome has sat in the Reliant Stadium parking lot unused, costing the public $1.5 million dollars a year in maintenance. There have been calls for its demolition with many fed up at paying so much money for an unused 18 story building. Considering that Houston is set to host the Super Bowl in 2017, many have called for the Astrodome to be torn down to allow more space for parking. Opponents of it’s renovation site the estimated $213 million package to renovate the landmark, noting the fact that it was very unlikely to make back the money invested which could be used for other more pressing city projects.

On the other hand, there are also many who believe that the Astrodome still has some intrinsic worth, both financially and sentimentally. These people disagree with the proposal of demolishing the structure, stating that it could cost up to $29 million per a study jointly commissioned by the Houston Rodeo and the Houston Texans. Many proponents of its preservation favor a complete overhaul of the stadium, yet the final purpose of the building, whether it become the largest, and likely most expensive, indoor park on the planet, or a “multi purpose special event place,” has yet to be officially decided. They are, however, all in agreement that the Astrodome, newly added to the National Register of Historic Places, must remain standing.

The issue of the Astrodome is obviously a hard one. Everyone knows that we cannot just leave it as it stands, yet no one has really done anything about it. For me, I first look at the problem from a financial standpoint: Does renovating the building appear to be a good investment? Will Houston ever reclaim the estimated $213 million if it is in fact renovated? Does the general public want such a project? In my opinion the answer to all of them is unfortunately, no. Investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a dilapidated structure that is unlikely to generate profit even close to what was spent on it is wrong financially. Just look around Houston; plenty of our infrastructure needs to be updated, such as congested streets and State Highways. Likewise our public education is nationally sub-par and such funds could impact the future generations of the city far more than another stadium would. What’s more is the cost of maintaining and continually air conditioning a building of such magnitude.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to just tear it down and forget about it. The building is a national landmark, Nationally and internationally historic, yet I believe the costs of restoring and maintaining it are too high. If it were me, I would propose a compromise: take down the Astrodome, make a green space or open air park in its place, and construct an Astrodome Museum memorializing the historic structure. Such a museum would incorporate pieces of the original Astrodome in its very walls, preserving some of the dome while being cost effective. I view this solution as the best for both parties and one of the few that actually benefit both sides while allowing tax dollars to be invested in more pressing matters.

The Astrodome is a historic site that is valuable to modern day society. Countless events occurred there: from football games to concerts to Evel Knievel stunts, but everything must come to an end. The stadium has had a good run and has provided the city of Houston with one of the most groundbreaking creations of the last 50 years. However, one should look at this not as the end of a golden age, but as the beginning of a new one. The money saved will help the city stay financially afloat while also helping to invest in schools to better the future. The Astrodome presents a problem mirrored throughout the country, but if dealt with correctly, it could provide the key to our long term success as a city and community.