With less then 8 weeks remaining before Harris County voters cast their ballots to decide the fate of the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” a group of prominent Houstonians has established a political action committee with which they hope to raise public support for the ailing Astrodome. Launched at a press conference on Thursday, The New Dome PAC has begun efforts to raise upwards of $200,000 for a media campaign intended to persuade the public to vote in favor of Proposition 2, the $217 million project that aims to preserve, repurpose, and modernize the historic stadium. While no opposing organization has yet been formed, some worry that many donors may be tapped out at this point in the political season, and polls conducted by local stations KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio show that the public is still split, with younger voters who may have never attended an event at the Astrodome showing less enthusiasm for putting down the cash to save it. Meanwhile, don’t forget that the Architect’s Newspaper and YKK AP are hosting an Astrodome Reuse Design Ideas Competition: Reimagine The Astrodome. The registration deadline is September 17, so sign up today!
The members of the PAC include former and current Harris County judges Robert Eckels and Ed Emmet, Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, Beth Wiedower of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Stephanie Anne Jones of Preservation Houston, Irma Diaz Gonzalez, and Dene Hofheinz, daughter of State Representative, Houston Mayor, County Judge and driving force behind the creation of the Astrodome, Roy Hofheinz. Together, they hope to transform the decaying 9.5-acre stadium into a multi-purpose special events center, dubbed the “New Dome Experience,” capable of hosting a wide array of large scale events, from trade shows and conferences to high school sporting events and Indy car races. The proposed transformation focuses on removing the stadium’s seating and raising its floor level to create 350,000 square feet of unimpeded event space, as well as updating its mechanical systems, installing glazed walls to bring in more natural light, and creating 400,000 square feet of public plaza surrounding the stadium. As Judge Ed Emmet told KUHF News, there is nowhere else in the world with a facility like the envisioned dome. “Once you take all the seats out, think how large of a space that is going to be, and just the opportunities it presents to bring all sorts of events. We have 7,500 festivals every year… You can put those inside the dome. They are weather proof, and it would be a huge attraction.”
Despite the seemingly enormous potential of the Astrodome, it has sat empty since the rodeo moved out in 2003. Since then, the pressure to do something with the space has mounted, leading to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s inclusion of the stadium on its 2013 list of 11 most endangered historic places. But those behind the PAC firmly believe in both the tremendous economic potential of the structure as well as its historical and cultural significance. “Every effort should be made to preserve the dome,” Beth Wiedower said to KUHF. “Our coalition and our local partners recognize the Harris County Domed Stadium, the Astrodome, as a nationally significant landmark, not only for its architectural and engineering feats at construction or because it was the first dome stadium in the world and set the standard for stadiums for decades to come, but also because of the tremendous cultural significance it holds for Harris County.”
According to Robert Stein, Rice University political science professor and KHOU’s political analyst, despite challenges, things don’t look all that bad for the New Dome PAC and the future of a national landmark. “It’s a little late,” Stein told KHOU. “However, if the supporters of the referendum are organized, spend a lot of money, and there is no organized and vocal opposition, I don’t see this having great difficulty in passing.”