8TH WONDER

Astrodome reboot will be determined by one of these two courses of action

Here's where the Astrodome stands now. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Here we go again. The Houston Astrodome Conservancy held a press conference Thursday to announce a two-month effort to survey Harris County residents for suggestions on how to re-purpose and essentially save the Astrodome as a vital, functioning facility.

Two-month effort? Last-ditch CPR may be a more accurate description.

Residents are being asked to click on future-dome.com and leave their ideas on what to do with the Dome.

Haven't we been through this several times? In 2013, a $227 million proposal to convert the Astrodome into a convention and event center was rejected by Harris County voters. At the time, and for a period after, many thought the bond referendum was a vote on whether to spend taxpayer money to support the project or tear down the Dome. However, tearing down the Dome was not an option in the referendum and wasn't on the ballot.

Later Harris County Commissioners Court, led by then-County Judge Ed Emmett, approved spending $105 million on a bare bones plan to turn the Dome into an underground parking garage and ground-level public park.

Before that plan could be implemented, current County Judge Lina Hidalgo was elected and put the kibosh on the Astrodome re-do. She said her focus was more on flood control and social issues, and placed the Dome on, as Mattress Mack would say, the back-back-back burner.

That's where it's stood for the past several years. The Astrodome sits, forgotten and forlorn, unloved and uncared for, home to cats and rodents, a molding eyesore next-door to Houston's gleaming, modern NRG Stadium.

And that's where the Astrodome Conservancy comes in. The group wants to celebrate Houston's futuristic imagination by preserving the greatest architectural achievement of our past. They didn't call the Astrodome the "Eighth Wonder of the World" for nothing.

However, residents have offered thousands of suggestions for the Astrodome in recent years. They've ranged from the reasonable, like build a combo hotel and convention center, to creative, like a massive indoor amusement park, to the outlandish, like indoor ski jumping and, my favorite, flooding the Astrodome floor and recreating historic naval battles.

While it appears an uphill climb, the Astrodome Conservancy has some factors in its favor. In 2017 the Astrodome was designated a State Antiquities Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission. That means the Dome can't be demolished without the commission's approval, which will never happen. So a wrecking ball never will get near the Dome. We can take demolition off the table.

Private funding vs. public money

That seems to leave a choice between finding private funding and pleading for public money to repair and repurpose the Astrodome.

Factors working against the Conservancy resurrecting the Dome as a thriving, functioning facility are many. The group would have to develop a plan that will convince private corporations to fork over as much as $500,000 to convert the Dome into a … what? That's the big question the Conservancy hopes to have answered by the public.

The Conservancy has met with Judge Hidaldo, who didn't budge on her lack of interest in renovating the Dome, and certainly doesn't want to spend one penny of taxpayer money on any such project. However, according to Conservancy officials, Hidalgo gave the Conservancy her blessing to poll the public and try to seek private funding to support whatever project may be feasible.

"Feasible" is the Conservancy's biggest mountain to climb. While the public submitted hundreds of suggestions to former County Judge Emmett in the past, not one excited private investors enough to open their wallets.

That's where the Astrodome stands now: legally impossible to tear down, and financially impossible to fix up.

My position has always been: fix it or demolish it. The Astrodome is broken. The current situation is sad and unacceptable. Houston is criticized for not celebrating its past by preserving its legacy buildings. Well, letting them rot is worse.

Of course, there is one simple solution that would have public support, financial backing and bring in billions to our state coffers: turning the Astrodome into a magnificent hotel-casino resort. But that won't happen because Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and the Texas Legislature refuse to let residents vote on legalizing gambling. Instead, they care more about telling people how to run their lives and what they can and can't do with their bodies. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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TEXAS A&M VS. ALABAMA PREVIEW

Heading to Tuscaloosa, the Aggies are on a slippery slope

Alabama is up next for the Aggies. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

One step forward, two steps backward. That's how it has felt to be a Texas A&M football fan for the past 2 seasons. After a disappointing 2021 season which saw the Aggies as a preseason #7, only to wind up with an 8-4 record, the Maroon and White entered 2022 fresh off a #1 recruiting class and a preseason #6 ranking. Only five weeks into the season, the Ags are headed for another step backward after a lackluster performance against Mississippi State. Even after the loss to App State, there was still hope that A&M could right the ship in SEC play. However, after a trip to Starkville, the Aggies look on track to have their worst season in over a decade.

A&M struggled in Starkville, to say the least. They were shut out in the first half, special teams struggled, Max Johnson was getting abused behind a bad offensive line performance and the defense had their worst performance of the season. Mississippi State was the better team for the entire 60 min. If you’re Texas A&M and headman Jimbo Fisher trying to propel your program to the level of Alabama and Georgia in the SEC, you must beat teams like the Bulldogs. But every year under Fisher a team that Texas A&M is more talented than always seems to get the better of them. After yet another disappointing SEC loss, the Ags have more problems and questions it seems now than after the week two App State loss.

The biggest issue facing the Aggies in my opinion is the offense. It has been anemic all season long, ranking dead last in the SEC in total offense and 105th in the nation. Here in College Station, much of the conversation has been around Jimbo and his play calling. Much has been made about how complex his offense is and the many wrinkles and details his quarterbacks need to learn to be successful in it. My question is why? Why does it have to be so complicated? Why do his plays require such a level of execution that if one of the eleven men on the field misses an assignment, then it is doomed? In college football, it seems like the most prolific offenses are simple, straightforward and easy for the players to understand. This allows them to play with freedom and looseness to make plays. I am not saying I know anything more than Jimbo, trust me, but I do think a change on the offensive side is in order. Whether that means Jimbo changes his philosophy and system that he runs or if it means bringing in a new offensive coordinator to redefine his offense a la Nick Saban in 2014.

Speaking of Nick Saban, things don’t get easier for the falling Aggies as they travel to Tuscaloosa this coming Saturday for the much-anticipated rematch against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Unfortunately for Texas A&M, they’ll be without starting QB Max Johnson most likely, as he could be out with a hand injury. That means they will once again turn to Haynes King for a spark. King has been extremely turnover prone throughout his collegiate career, and for the Aggies to once again pull off the upset over Bama, King will need to limit turnovers. It will take a lot more to go right for the Aggies to hang into this game, but I expect this one to get ugly. The Crimson Tide handle business with a 45-14 win over Texas A&M.

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