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ULI: Astrodome should live on

Houston Astrodome

The Urban Land Institute is pitching a preservation plan for the Houston Astrodome that would revive the Eighth Wonder of the World as a tourist destination while adding economic activity to NRG Park.

Harris County has been seeking a reuse plan for the Astrodome that taxpayers can support. A referendum to renovate the Astrodome was shot down by voters in 2013, but county officials have held off on any demolition plans — the path preferred by the NFL’s Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo officials — until it’s clear no other reuse plan is feasible.

The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research group, prepared a report, The Astrodome, Harris County Texas: A Vision for a Repurposed Icon, covering what can be done. We’ve covered the initial recommendations already, but with ULI issuing a final report today, we’re revisiting the plan.

The meat of the plan:

  • Recognize the Astrodome’s iconic status with a museum celebrating its history as the world’s first domed sports stadium and create a new vision that rehabilitates the dome and the surrounding portions of NRG Park.
  • Redevelop the Astrodome as a multi-use facility.
  • Develop 1,500 additional parking spaces in the lower levels of the Astrodome.
  • Create a new ground floor in the Astrodome interior that can accommodate a variety of uses, including a park.
  • Create a new outdoor public space of live oak allée as a promenade between the nearby light rail station and the east entrance to the Astrodome.
  • Construct permanent outdoor covered pavilions along the allée.
  • Enhance the outside of the Astrodome with hardscape and landscape features.
  • Reuse the various floors of the Astrodome for a variety of programmable space, such as new space to extend the game-day experience for Houston Texans fans, new spaces for the HLSR, and additional space for the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC is another major user of NRG Park facilities).
  • Use the transformed space for activities such as community festivals, farmers markets, movie nights, charity events and private events that will generate new revenue streams.
  • Identify and tap new sources of capital and operational funds.
  • Create a new leadership initiative to unite vision with action.

“We quickly realized that the historic value of the site made retaining the Astrodome structure essential,” said Wayne Ratkovich, president of The Ratkovich Company, who chaired the group presenting the report. “Our vision for the Astrodome is one of a grand civic space that enhances the entire NRG Park Complex.”

The report notes that the complexity of such a monumental transformation – turning a vast empty interior space (dubbed the “biggest room in the world” by one panelist) into a programmable indoor park and civic space – calls for the adoption by Harris County of a framework of guiding principles to ensure a high-quality outcome. “The re-purposed Astrodome must be aesthetically and historically sensitive as well as functional and self-sustaining,” the report says.

Astrodome construction

The recommended guiding principles include a commitment that the Astrodome will be rehabilitated as a civic space accessible by train, bike and car; and that the facility’s historic and architectural importance will be respected and not treated as a relic, but rather enjoyed as an active, dynamic public space. Among other principles: that the Astrodome will be a regional destination for residents and visitors; is designed to celebrate arts, education, technology, innovation and history; and that it plays a significant, functional role within the entire NRG Park, serving as an asset to the Texans, the HLSR, and the OTC.

“The creation of a truly unique indoor park, accessible to all in the region, harkens to the early 1960s (when the Astrodome was built) by providing an innovative, provocative approach to how public space is created and used,” the report concludes. “It is inconceivable that the Astrodome should not be the centerpiece of NRG Park.”

Whether or not the report is actionable remains to be seen. But the fact that Harris County is still looking for a solution is good news for those who don’t want to see the 1965 classic torn down.

RELATED STORIES: Newest Astrodome preservation plan: World’s largest indoor park; Astrodome demolition proposed by Texans, rodeo; 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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