The Future of the Houston Astrodome

By Beth Wiedower posted 04-09-2015 17:06

  
 astrodomeulicover

In December 2014, the National Trust co-sponsored an Advisory Services Panel with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to examine reuse scenarios for the iconic Astrodome in Houston. The Advisory Panel, a fee-for-service program offered by ULI, pulled together experts in historic preservation, land use, parking management, financing, development, and design from across the country. The one-week, intensive exercise included conversations with more than 100 stakeholders and organizations around Houston and Texas, and culminated in a public presentation of initial recommendations from the ULI panel of experts.

At the end of March, the final report and recommendations were released by the Urban Land Institute to much applause by most stakeholders and Houston area leaders. The report is bold and prescriptive. In it, the Advisory Panel calls for the unequivocal preservation and reuse of the landmark Astrodome. The report states, “The panel concluded that the Astrodome can and should live on” as a grand civic space complementing the current and future tenants surrounding NRG Park (a complex named after the energy company NRG Energy).

The execution of the ULI Advisory Panel and the subsequent release of its recommendations are key steps forward in the ongoing effort to identify and implement a viable and sustainable reuse for the Astrodome. Lovingly known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” during its heyday, the first domed stadium, constructed in 1965, has been vacant since 2008 when it was deemed unsafe for occupancy. With its designed and intended use replaced by newer stadiums and ballparks in Houston, the challenge to preserving this engineering marvel is to find a viable reuse.

 2013’s Save the Dome campaign launched by the National Trust and partners. | Credit: Beth Wiedower, National Trust for Historic Preservation
2013’s Save the Dome campaign launched by the National Trust and partners. | Credit: Beth Wiedower, National Trust for Historic Preservation

And in the can-do spirit of Houston and Harris County (the entity that owns the Dome), government leaders are thinking big once again. Per its original intent to provide climate-controlled entertainment and recreation for residents and visitors who otherwise must cope with the city’s oppressive heat and humidity, as well as ravenous mosquitoes and the more-than-occasional summer storm downpour, the “grand civic space” will carry the concept beyond the bleacher seats to allow for recreational and educational activities for all visitors to the Astrodome park.

The panel recommends creating a flexible and innovative indoor park space to function as a multi-use facility with public, philanthropic and private components to the design and programming. The space will become a cultural and recreational destination for residents and visitors to Houston, and will honor the history and innovation of the Astrodome and those who attended events and played there. The park will recognize and play a special role in the continued growth of the existing NRG Park tenants, the legendary Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the NFL’s Houston Texans, as well as the giant annual Off-Shore Technology Conference—the largest energy industry gathering in the county. It will celebrate Houston’s diversity while welcoming its citizens and guests to a truly public space.

 the ULI Panel and sponsors with the Astrodome in the background. |  Credit: Beth Wiedower, National Trust for Historic Preservation
The ULI Panel and sponsors with the Astrodome in the background. | Credit: Beth Wiedower, National Trust for Historic Preservation
The report outlines design, programming, development, and financing, and offers a suggested timeline for implementation. While the report doesn’t set out a specific plan, it does offer detailed recommendations, accompanied by examples, references, and possible reuse scenarios to aid Harris County leaders and their partners in thinking about the Astrodome’s reuse. This framework draws heavily on the foundation of the Astrodome—the can-do spirit, technological prowess, innovation, and big thinking that built the Dome amid America’s energy revolution and the race to space in the 1960s. It is bold. It is new. It is challenging. And it won’t happen overnight. But the tide seems to have turned in favor of preserving and reusing the Eighth Wonder of the World and the landmark most associated with Houston’s innovative spirit.

The National Trust is proud to be a sponsor of the ULI Advisory Panel exercise and its role in advancing discussions around reusing the Astrodome. As an official National Treasure of the National Trust, we will continue to work with Harris County leaders and private partners committed to the Astrodome's preservation and sustainability. For more information on the Astrodome National Treasure, visit www.savingplaces.org.

Editor's Note: Today is the Houston Astrodome's 50th Birthday. Happy Birthday!

Beth Wiedower is a senior field officer in the Houston Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

#Architecture #ULI #Astrodome #NationalTreasure

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