Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Astro-doomed?



Yesterday Harris County voters rejected a bond proposal that would have turned the now-defunct "8th Wonder of the World" into an exhibition hall. Essentially we were voting to "save the Dome." But we didn't, and now the Dome may be doomed.

It's interesting how the situation played out over the past few months. First, Harris County citizens were told that the Dome cost millions of dollars per month in maintenance just to keep it from being condemned by the city. Then they said demolishing the stadium would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which we obviously did not have laying around in the petty cash drawer.


So the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp set out to elicit some ideas of what to do with the Dome. Could we save it? Could we profit from it? Is it still relevant? The HCSCC actually held a contest in which they solicited ideas about what to do with the Dome. Ostensibly, the best idea would win the contest, and that's what they would do with the Astrodome. Except that's not what happened. Instead, the HCSCC decided to go its own way and put the decision on the ballot.


In my own opinion, it looks like the HCSCC merely issued the request for proposals in order to save face among a nostalgic and expectant public. In their minds, however, they knew that there would be no selection from among the public's ideas; HCSCC would have its cake and eat it too.


But all that depended on the ballot measure passing yesterday. Which—to many peoples' surprise—failed by a healthy margin. So now the prevailing talking point is that the Astrodome is Astro-doomed to destruction. However, there is a silver lining that we may be overlooking: the imminent failure and demolition of the Dome may drive down the purchase price for any potential investor/developer looking to turn the Dome into the magical place it could be (and without raising taxes to do it). I think it's the best of both worlds. The HCSCC will have a strong incentive to cut a big discount for any developer wishing to buy the Astrodome (instead of facing demolition and associated fess), and the whole process is given to private industry where it belongs. It's a win/win/win (if the Dome stays alive). Imagine the possibilities.


In the end, the HCSCC will reap what it sowed. They held a "contest" without the possibility of a winner. None of the redevelopment ideas were "acceptable," but the criteria for acceptability were unreasonable from the start. They had an end game in mind, and they put all their eggs in one basket—passing the $217 million bond package to renovate the Dome. Because that plan didn't hatch, it looks like HCSCC's plan has backfired. Big time. But HCSCC could mitigate the loss by passing the Dome on to an innovative and interested developer. I'd like to see what we could create without all the bureaucratic red tape—or at least less of it.


I don't want to see the Astrodome become a pile of mangled steel and rubble. But I balk at saddling taxpayers with this kind of obligation after the way HCSCC handled the situation.



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