Houston Astrodome items sold at auction; building's fate left in voters' hands
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Pieces of Houston history were sold to the highest bidder Saturday as Harris County held its much-anticipated Astrodome auction.
Harris County sold seats, turnstiles, squares of AstroTurf, benches and other memorabilia from the iconic "Eighth Wonder of the World" during a "yard sale" and auction that got underway at Reliant Center on Saturday morning.
Prospective buyers started lining up early, hoping get what some fans see as priceless items.
"We're hoping to get some of the seats for memorabilia," Amy Mitton said. "My husband grew up here his whole life with the Astrodome, and we just want to have some memories of that."
The doors opened at 8am. More than 6,000 people passed through, the line twisting through Reliant Center and out the door.
"We got here as quick as we could. I'm excited for today," Alex Spell said.
Spell and his friends waited to get in to Reliant Center since midnight.
"I wouldn't miss this moment for anything," Spell said.
Up for grabs were about 1,000 Astrodome stadium seats in four different colors, sold in pairs for $200. They didn't last long. Organizers said about $480,000 in seats sold in just five hours.
Customers were limited to four pairs of seats with special orders taken based on availability.
Patrick Meadows went straight for the world-famous AstroTurf.
"Everybody kept cutting in front of everybody, so that's why we are 50 or 60 people back," Patrick Meadows said. "It's history, you know? Everyone wants a part of history."
A-square-foot of turf was $20, complete with a certificate of authenticity. Those went quickly, as well. Every turf tile sold in less than four hours with a limit of four sections of turf per buyer.
Spell went for more exclusive items like Astros and Oilers banners and field markers, auctioned to the highest bidder. Some of the other items up for grabs included lockers, signs, player portraits and even an Oilers sign autographed by Texas legends Earl Campbell and Dan Pastorini. An auction for the bigger items began at 9:30 and was expected to last until around 6pm, but it sold out in a matter of hours.
One item in the auction -- a turnstile -- sold for $4,100. We're told another $11,000 was paid for space helmets once worn by Astrodome grounds crews.
"The astrodome is like no other," Spell said. "And it's a landmark for the city for sure."
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was the world's first multipurpose domed stadium. It was home to the Astros and the Oilers. But no professional sports team has played there since 1999 and it has been closed to all events since 2009.
Political experts say the success of Saturday's sale is a sign of what could come on Election Day. Voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve a referendum authorizing up to $217 million in bonds to turn the stadium into a giant convention center and exhibition space. Houston-area leaders have said that if the referendum fails, the Astrodome will probably be razed.
"With the vote happening Tuesday, the future of the Astrodome is uncertain," said Leah Mastaglio, Reliant Park's event services director. "We're just hoping that a lot of people have a lot of memories from the Astrodome."
A poll conducted in mid-September by Rice University in Houston found 45 percent of likely voters supported the referendum, with 35 percent opposing it and nearly 20 percent still undecided.
"The structure is very, very sound. And when completed, we will be the only place in the world that has 35,000 square feet of column-free space with 175-foot ceiling," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.
Yet critics say the dome won't be able to turn a profit from special events because there's simply not enough interest.
"We're already being contacted by groups from all over the world saying, 'When is it going to be ready? Can we do this, can we do that?'" Emmett said.
What's certain now is the Astrodome is making its first profit in decades, and supporters hope that enthusiasm for preserving the dome will carry over into the polling booths. Final sales totals from Saturday's sale and auction could hit close to a million dollars. Organizers say they will sell more items, but it will be online.
Everything was sold as-is, and all sales were final. Proceeds from Saturday's event will go to the Astrodome renovation project underway now.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.
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