Astrodome hurting Houston's Super Bowl bid?

March 21, 2013

Roger Goodell isn't from Houston, so he can be forgiven for this. It's just that when he says he thinks tearing down the Astrodome would help Houston win a Super Bowl bid, he knoweth not what he does.

We'll start with what Goodell said.

"Those are decisions that have to be made by the community," said Goodell on Wednesday. "It sounds like a very positive change because they'll be able to use the space that the Astrodome sits on in a very positive way. Whether it's more parking, whether we can have more events there on that space -- it's not just the stadium itself, it’s the area surrounding it that’s valuable. And, I think that could be a very positive change in their Super Bowl bid."

So here's the thing: That's not an original idea. It's not even close to an original idea. Harris County has been trying to figure out what to do with the Astrodome for 10 years now. It's just sitting there rotting right next to Reliant Stadium and everybody in Houston agrees that something needs to be done about it.

What, exactly, is an immensely complicated question. A good place to start is that the Astrodome, once known as "The Eighth Wonder of the World" is Houston's most iconic piece of architecture. To a lot of Houstonians, it represents the moment Houston became a major city and it was the venue for countless memories. There is a lot of sentimentality at play here. A certain percentage of Houstonians simply will never vote to have the dome torn down, and they especially aren't going to vote to raise their own taxes to do it.

And that introduces the next issue. Even if everybody could agree on what to do with the dome, there is still the matter of deciding who is going to pay for it. Last spring Harris County hired a group of firms architectural and otherwise to do a feasibility study and make recommendations as to what the county ought to do. The recommendation was to fix up the dome and transform it into a multi-purpose facility that could be useful for events like high school football games, the rodeo and all the way up to the Olympics. That was going to cost about $270 million.

Recommendation No. 2 was to tear it down, but that project alone was estimated at $67 million. The plan, originally, was to put the issue up for a vote last November, but the dome issue would have been going up against Houston Independent School District bond issues and there was no clear path to the county making that money back.

"The people, in my humble opinion, are not going to vote for a tax increase," Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said at the time. "It's not a good atmosphere, right now, for people to say 'I want to gamble,' so to speak." The Astrodome didn't end up on the ballot, and guys like Radack said the dome could end up sitting there another 100 years. There have been a billion ideas for the Astrodome -- everything from turning it into a movie studio to a shopping center to a public park -- but every idea, no matter how good or bad, always runs into the same problem: Neither the taxpayer nor any private investor wants to pay for it.

So Goodell now casts that Super Bowl lure out there and, who knows, this may be the impetus everybody needed. Perhaps a dome demolition project could be wrapped into an overall Super Bowl bid. And there is a new study out there that says the dome could be demolished for $29 million rather than $67 million.

If nothing else, it may reveal just how badly the taxpayers of Harris County want to host the Super Bowl.