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State action could save Houston Astrodome

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Houston Astrodome

By designating the Houston Astrodome as a "state antiquities landmark," the Texas Historical Commission could prevent Harris County from tearing down the famed facility.

There are no current plans to tear down the Astrodome, which has sat empty since 2009. Last year Harris County voters rejected a $217-million bonding proposal that would have turned the venerable stadium, which opened in 1965, into a convention center and more modest sports facility. Since then many of the Astrodome contents were sold at auction, with Harris County officials debating the future of the Eighth Wonder of the World.

However, an advisory committee to the Texas Historical Commission recommended designating the Astrodome as a state antiquities landmark, and the full commission is expected to discuss the issue next month. If so designated, any attempts to tear down or significantly alter the Astrodome would need to be approved by the commission. While fans of the Astrodome are hailing the prospect, some Harris County officials worry that such a restriction would tie their hands if a viable private-sector plan emerges calling for significant renovations:

But Harris County Judge Ed Emmett isn't as excited about the potential antiquities designation. Emmett will hold a meeting Wednesday with stakeholders who have expressed interest in the Astrodome's future to discuss this and other developments.

Joe Stinebaker, Emmett's spokesman, said the county judge doesn't want the Astrodome demolished, but Emmett believes the antiquities landmark designation could make it more difficult to attract investors who want to refurbish the stadium. Emmett has said any ideas for the Astrodome will have to be paid through private sector funding.

"He's opposed to anything that ties the county's hands, which this does in no uncertain terms," Stinebaker said.

There is one more benefit toward an antiquities designation: anyone renovating the Astrodome would be eligible for state tax breaks and grants. Earlier this year the Astrodome was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, a designation that would not prevent Harris County from teating it down.

We discussed the proposal on NPR's Marketplace.

RELATED STORIES: Astrodome awarded historic designation -- but it probably won't change anything; Astrodome renovation plan shot down by voters; Fate of Astrodome again under debate in HoustonFuture of Astrodome: Three scenariosAstros turn back the clock this season to mark Astrodome openingIs Houston angling to close Astrodome?

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