It’s a topic that pops up every few years, as Houston decides what to do with the economically obsolete Astrodome, the indoor ballpark once hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
There had been plans floating around for domed ballparks in the 1950s and 1960s — most notably Buckminster Fuller‘s proposal for a covered ballpark in Brooklyn — but it took the Texas bravado of Houston business and political leaders to make the Astrodome a reality, opening in 1965 as the home of the renamed Houston Astros. It was the product of a Space Age optimism: the future was going to be high-tech and shiny, and technology was going to lead the way, able to solve any problem. Fans bothered by mosquitoes and the hot sun at Colt Stadium? Put a roof over their head! Can’t grow grass under the translucent roof? Throw down some newly invented AstroTurf!
But with the Astros gone and no use emerging for the Astrodome, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation may be finally ready to pull the plug on the rapidly deteriorating facility. Sure, there have been some ideas throws around for a future use — hotel, indoor amusement park, conference center — but none of the options look to be affordable and/or feasible. Spending a half-million dollars to upgrade the Astrodome to a conference center may placate feelings of nostalgia for many locals who spent a big chunk of their formative lives in the Astrodome, but it won’t necessarily lead to an economically viable facility. So don’t be surprised if the recommendation, which could be announced today, is to tear down the place.
If the Astrodome is torn down, it will represent a true end of a era in sports-facility design. While covered facilities are still in vogue for football — Detroit’s Ford Field has a fixed roof, and one is contemplated for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium — they’re out of favor in Major League Baseball, where the Tampa Bay Rays play in the only remaining fixed-roof facility, Tropicana Dome. Over the years the Astrodome, Metrodome and Kingdome were replaced by retractable-roof or open-air ballparks; retractable roofs are the state of the art, featured at Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Safeco Field, Marlins Park, Minute Maid Park and Chase Field.
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