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Texas Voters Reject Plan for New Multi-Purpose Center

The Astrodome is Astro-doomed. On November 5, Texas voters rejected a referendum that would have turned Houston’s famed Astrodome into a multipurpose convention and event center, leaving what was once dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” to most likely face the demolition ball.

Harris County’s Proposition 2, which would have authorized up to $217 million in bonds to repurpose the building, failed by a 53-47 margin despite the efforts of many organized “Save the Dome” support groups. “Our sense was that there was enough interest and sentiment in the building that rather than advocating razing the building, a rehabilitation would have some traction,” says Willie P. Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, the not-for-profit company that operates the public facilities at Houston’s Reliant Park, including the Astrodome.

The Astrodome, an iconic structure for the city of Houston, was the first-ever domed and air-conditioned stadium when it opened in 1965 as home field for both the Houston Astros baseball team and the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) football team. It hosted the famed “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973 and concerts by artists such as the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and Selena. But after losing the Astros to a new stadium in 1999, the Astrodome remained relatively unused until it became a shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It closed for good in 2006.

Not Enough Passion to Get to the Polls

Loston says that many ideas for rehabilitating the Astrodome hit the table, including hotels, theme parks, and even an indoor ski slope. But the final proposition was a 350,000-square-foot, column-free, multipurpose building “that would provide the opportunity to do anything conceivable that you could do inside, from sporting events, to exhibitions, to musical events and graduations.”

There was no organized opposition to the plan, though some voters told local news outlets that the public money to be put up for the project was intimidating in comparison to the cost of demolishing the dome, which has been estimated to be between $29 million and $78 million.

While the proposition’s advocates did not conduct any potential impact studies, Loston says it’s difficult to say if that would have worked to sway the voting population, which on election day was about 16 percent of Harris County’s more than 4 million residents. “It is conceptually somewhat difficult for communities to believe and understand the impact of [convention] venues,” Loston says.

As a result of Tuesday’s vote, the Astrodome’s fate will be left up to the Harris County Commissioners Court, which will most likely decide to demolish it before the NCAA Final Four and Super Bowl come to Houston in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

“I don’t know that the money issue was as important as the philosophy behind government spending, coupled with the fact that there was probably no passion other than seeing the building saved, “ Loston says. “There was not enough passion to take folks who were undecided and motivate them to come to the polls and vote for this thing.”

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