History of the Astrodome
Renovations and Reuse
The Astrodome has undergone several renovations since 1965. As soon as it was completed in 1965, the skylights had to be painted to cut down on the glare that outfielders experienced. In the mid 1970’s, the roof of the Astrodome was re-sealed and the original skylights were replaced. And in 1988 and 1989, the Astrodome underwent a $100 million renovation. The iconic original scoreboard, the ‘Astrolite’, was taken down, and Hofheinz’s luxurious 6-story residence was also removed to make room for 10,000 more seats in order to persuade the Oilers to stay at the Astrodome. An additional seventy-two luxury boxes were built as well as four cylindrical towers with pedestrian ramps added to the exterior.
Since its closing, there have been many ideas proposed for the reuse of the Dome, including a hotel, event and convention space, festival space, amature sports arena, theme park, movie studio, entertainment venue, museum, park or recreation space, disaster relief space, and its demolition. So far, none of these proposals have been approved and no funding sources have been identified.
In 2013, after being closed for several years, a $213 million proposal to convert the Astrodome into an event space was turned down by voters.
In 2013 and 2014, the Astrodome was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for HIstoric Preservation and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2017, the Astrodome was designated a Texas State Antiquities Landmark, meaning that the Astrodome cannot be demolished.
In 2018, a pared-down $105 million version of the 2013 proposal was approved by Harris County Commissioners Court. This version proposed an event space with parking underneath.
In 2019, the project was put on hold due to concerns over how financially responsible the plan was. The proposal did not include funding for air conditioning, which is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars. Currently, the Dome costs the County money to maintain and operate, so they want a plan that will produce some revenue for the County and provide more public benefit. However, Harris County is open to alternative proposals for the Astrodome.
Who owns the Dome and what is the Astrodome Conservancy?
The Astrodome and NRG Park are owned by Harris County. NRG park is leased out to two tenants, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Houston Texans. Their leases run through 2032, and give them a lot of influence over how the site is run and what happens to the Astrodome.
In 2016, the Astrodome Conservancy was founded to champion the Astrodome on behalf of the residents of the Houston Region. Their mission is to promote the Astrodome’s legacy through preservation and development, advocate for public access, and create programming that inspires and engages. And the Conservancy wants the Astrodome to be dynamic and accessible to all.
Since 2019, they have also been working diligently to explore alternative financing tools for redevelopment and public outreach. In 2020, the Astrodome Conservancy raised enough private funds to launch this community engagement campaign to understand what the public wants for the future of the Astrodome.
What is ‘Future Dome’ and what are we trying to do?
“Future Dome” is a six-week long community engagement campaign where we are asking for your input on the future of the Astrodome through a series of surveys, engagement activities, informative materials, and public meetings. The information provided here is aimed at giving you the information you need to formulate informed opinions and helpful feedback, but our main goal is to listen to you, the public.
The results of this campaign will be used to develop and demonstrate support for a new, feasible, and community-backed approach to the reuse of the Dome. Let’s make it ours!
You can learn more about the Astrodome Conservancy and the Future Dome outreach effort here.
There are several constraints that make preserving and reusing the Dome challenging. such as the Astrodome’s location in the middle of a large site, its large size, a need to complement the Texans and Rodeo uses historic preservation requirements, and the need to be financially sustainable while also benefiting the public.
Funding and Public Benefit
Reusing the Astrodome is an expensive process. Harris County, the owner of the Astrodome, has stated that any public money that goes into the building needs to be justified by public benefit. However, there are a lot of proposals for how to use the Dome that does not take public benefit into account. The Rodeo and the Texans, who are contractually able to use the Astrodome and the surrounding site, would prefer a self-funding project that they could use and benefit financially from.
However, reusing the Dome for a private, profitable use – like a hotel for example – seems unlikely to work. Private uses require private owners and developers, none of which have stepped up or shown any interest in reusing the Dome in the twelve years that it has sat vacant. For a private company or developer, reusing the Dome, especially with the Texans and Rodeo event restrictions, is not a financially sound investment without help from public money.
- The Astrodome is located in the center of NRG Park and surrounded by parking
- NRG Park is 350 acres
- NRG Park is the size of 108 downtown Houston blocks
- NRG Park could fit the whole Downtown Houston Convention Center, including BBVA Stadium, Minute Maid Park, Discovery Green, GRB Convention Center, and Toyota Center
- NRG Park is entirely private and fenced-off from the public
- The Astrodome is in the middle of the park, so it has no public access (without buying a ticket)
- There is an idea to create a public pedestrian/bike path through the park for public access to the Astrodome
- The Astrodome is huge: 9 stories tall, 1 million square feet, and could seat over 70,000 people
- The interior space is 208 feet tall and spans (no columns) 642 feet across
- It is similar in size to Discovery green
- It could easily fit 10 City Hall buildings, the Toyota center, or 168 Whataburger stores inside it
- It is much more area than many uses would require (bigger than a typical hotel, museum, or exhibition hall)
The Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo events are some of the biggest constraints.
- Harris County owns the Astrodome and NRG Park, but the Texans and the Rodeo have contracts that give them complete control of the site during event or game days
- The Rodeo can use any part of NRG Park, including the Astrodome
- The Texans can use all of the park, but not the Astrodome, and they use all of the parking around it, which blocks access to the Dome during game days
- The amount of time that the Rodeo and Texans block access to the Dome makes it hard to put private uses like retail and restaurants in the Astrodome
- However the Astrodome is reused, it needs to be compatible with the Rodeo and Texans
- The Astrodome reuse is unique; there are no other indoor stadiums that have been reused as something else
- The Astrodome cannot be torn down because of its designation as a state landmark
- The electrical and mechanical systems need to be replaced – including the air conditioning
- Historical preservation standards will limit what can be modified
- Many proposals for the Astrodome would be hard or impossible to accomplish under these standards
- The Astrodome has been renovated several times, so there are some parts of the Astrodome that are not original