In Focus

How much renovating the Astrodome would cost you

Friday, May 25, 2012

A decision on whether to leave the Astrodome standing could come down to how much Harris County residents are willing to pay.

ABC13 Poll

Earlier this week, we showed you some of the ambitious renovation proposals to repurpose the Astrodome. Now we're learning that the price of preserving the Houston landmark may be more than taxpayers are willing to pay.

The plans are either to tear the Dome down or turn it around. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to remake the Dome into a multi-purpose facility and build a new Reliant Arena.

The county can't afford to do it alone, so taxpayers will likely decide if they want to up their own tax bill every year for 30 years.

"This is where I grew up, in the Astrodome," said Jeff Rosenberg with Tri-Star Productions.

Rosenberg is a pretty serious sports fan. Before he became a collectibles dealer in Houston, he attended hundreds of Astros games as a fan in the Astrodome. He'll never part with his '86 Mike Scott jersey.

"There is not an amount of money I would sell this jersey for," Rosenberg.

While his memories might be priceless, saving the Astrodome isn't. It was built in the 1960's for $31.5 million, and back then, taxpayers almost said no to that price.

"These buildings aren't going to magically reverse the pattern of deterioration," said Willie Lotson with the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation.

Taxpayers are once again being asked to pay for the Astrodome -- $600 million to build a new arena and remake the dome into a multi-purpose conference facility.

The fight's not likely to be any easier this time.

"I think it's going to be very tough," Lotson said.

The numbers are still preliminary, but to raise enough for the $600 million renovation, the county would have to raise the tax rate on every home in Harris County by 1.2 cents. On a $100,000 home, that's about a dollar a month, every month, for the next 30 years.

"That's not all that big of deal," said Dene Hofheinz Anton.

Anton is Roy Hofheinz's daughter. He built the dome, and when we found her in Nashville today, she told us she wants it saved.

"A dollar? A dollar to save the 'Eighth Wonder of the World' and make it into something that's very exciting for all families?" she said.

But once voters see the bill, the question will likely be how much is a memory worth?

"Unfortunately, the reality is, you know, we just have to say goodbye. It's our beloved dome, but we say goodbye," said Rosenberg.

Either way, we apparently can't wait.

"The sooner that some action is taken to reverse the trend that we're in right now, the better we're going to be in the long haul," Lotson said.

Harris County commissioners will decide next month about whether to put this to a public vote.

Here's an interesting statistic to think about: when the first dome vote was taken in 1961, there were a little more than a million people in Harris County. Today there's nearly four times that many. That's a lot of people without a lot of dome memories who would also get this tax bill.

Join the conversation and vote in our poll above.

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