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A rare look inside Houston Astrodome

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Houston's Astrodome was once considered the 8th wonder of the modern world. Now, the architectural gem is empty, and while officials say it's still structurally sound, it would need some significant renovations if it's to make any kind of comeback.

The last crowds that dome hosted were Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005 but it's been a landmark in search for a purpose for at least a decade. Now, we take a look at the past and the present.

It was built nearly 50 years ago for $36 million and it paid for itself many times over in publicity for a growing city in the 60's and helped put Houston on the map. And somewhere in the opening day of the Houston Astros at the Astrodome was Madeline Hamm, who amassed dome collectibles over the years. Now she's fighting to save the landmark they celebrate.

"We were playing the Yankees but I think the excitement was going to the Astrodome and seeing it for the first time, it was incredible -- it's still incredible," Hamm said.

A vintage brochure from its opening reads money talks. It still does, only its a lot more now and this is why: The dome that we toured today is musty and without an occupancy purpose or any real purpose. The old Oilers locker room is stripped bare. The seats once filled with fans are dusty and torn. The Astroturf is rolled up on the field, and yet, if you look past the obvious, its structurally sound and there are still possibilities.

"And that's one of the things we're considering because obviously we'd have to do work to the building and that again is an expense," said Edgar Colon, chairman of the Sports/Convention Corp.

Here are the options being considered:

  • Demolition and construction of a plaza atop the site, which would cost $124 million.
  • Conversion to a multi purpose public facility for $324 million.
  • Privately funded renovation, which could cost anywhere from $100 million to $500 million on top of that.
  • Option 4: Do nothing and let it sit empty and continue to provide minimal maintenance.
  • Whatever option is chosen it will cost money and it's a quandary even for the president of Reliant Park, Mark Miller.

    "You've got a landmark versus what's the practical use of the money, and I always equate it to, would you tear down the St. Louis Arch?" Miller said.

    County commissioners should be presented with those options in about two months. Oddly enough, the Texas Historical Commission says the Astrodome is eligible for a national landmark status but the county would have to nominate it.

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