DONE WITH THE DOME?

It's back to square one for abandoned Astrodome money pit

Photo courtesy of City of Houston.

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

The other day, I drove past the Astrodome, expecting to see workers scurrying, getting the once "Eighth Wonder of the World" back on its feet, back in business. Wasn't the plan to raise the floor to ground level and build a parking garage with 1,400 spaces below?

Didn't the county commissioners approve $105 million for Phase 1 of returning the Astrodome to a useful, money-making building? Wasn't the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo onboard with the project?

The ghost Dome

However, current Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court have brought everything to a screeching stop at the Astrodome. It's a ghost building again. Speaking on Houston Public Media, Hidalgo questioned if the $105 million plan "is fiscally responsible, that it will actually, with the funds committed to it, that it will actually get us to a point where the Astrodome is self-sustaining. What I'm discovering is that the 105 (million dollars) that was allocated is not enough to air condition the building. Is the current design enough for folks to actually want to rent it out?"Hidalgo is unclear about what to do with the Dome, and it's simply not a priority with her. She says she is concentrating more on issues like flood prevention and criminal justice reform. And certainly there is work to be done there.

Hidalgo's communications director, Kiran Khalid, put it more bluntly in Houstonia magazine, "This is really on the back burner for us at this juncture. Speculating on what will happen with the Astrodome, and when, is not at the top of mind for us."

Back to Square One

And with that, we are back to Square One on what to do with the Astrodome, with nothing being done and nobody, well, mostly nobody happy. This was after a decade of emotional, countywide wrangling what to do with the aging, forlorn and forgotten domed stadium — including suggestions like turning it into a convention and hotel center, and some rather out there ideas, like an indoor ski jumping attraction or movie studio.

I remember writing a column: My position was either do something with the Astrodome — or tear it down. Leaving it to rot was not acceptable. My dream solution would be to turn into a magnificent hotel and casino. Harris County and Houston would sit back and watch the money roll in, enough to fix every problem and pot hole five times over. But casino gambling is illegal in Texas. (That's so dumb and backward.)

The Dome deserves better

Built in 1965, the gleaming Astrodome, the world's first covered sports stadium, was Houston's logo and greatest accomplishment — until we put a man on the moon. Over the years, primary tenants like the Houston Oilers fled to Tennessee and the Houston Astros built a new home, Minute Maid Park. And we built a new football stadium and home for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo right next door to the Astrodome.

The new stadium, with every bell and whistle imaginable, only made the Astrodome look puny and old, an embarrassing, dingy public eyesore. In 2009, the Houston Fire Marshal declared the Astrodome unsafe for occupancy. He might as well slapped a "condemned" sign on the building.

In 2013, there was a vote whether to spend $217 million of public money to renovate the Astrodome, if not to its past glory, at least to modern usefulness. Many mistakenly considered the election a referendum on the Astrodome itself. Yes to fix it up, no to tear it down.

Ed to the rescue

The public spoke a resounding no, 53 to 47 percent. But Harris County Judge Ed Emmett was not willing to take no for an answer. Practically tying himself to the Dome as a human shield against the wrecking ball, Emmett was determined not to see the Dome demo'd on his watch.

Emmett insisted that his determination to keep the Dome standing was based on fiscal responsibility, not nostalgia or fear of being tagged "The man who lost the Dome."

Continue on CultureMap to find out if the Dome could be demolished.

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After a short turnaround, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to their Mecca at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the famed Coca-Cola 600. Of all the races in NASCAR, after Daytona this race may be the most important race on the schedule. The tradition started back in 1959 when former driver and hall of famer Curtis Turner teamed up with Burton Smith to build the track and upon its completion, they decided to make the first race at the new track on the same day as the Indy 500. In an effort to draw fans, they made the race 100 miles longer and from there the rest was history. This year's rendition will be somber though as no fans will be permitted to enter due to Covid-19, but even in this time of unrest it will be a relief to continue to see our heroes take on NASCAR's longest race.

For the first time, NASCAR pulled off it's first midweek race and it was a doozy. For most of the race there was a wide range of characters who were up front. Clint Bowyer set the tone early as he went on to win the first two stages but after getting caught in traffic he fell back. To make matters worse, Bowyer was involved in an accident that ended any chance of victory. While it wasn't the outcome he would have hoped for, to see how well he ran is a sign of good things to come for the Kansas native. I look forward to seeing how he rebounds.

With Bowyer out of it, the attention shifted to Chase Elliott. All night it seemed like he had the second best car and looked to be on his way to another victory but after the caution for Bowyer, Elliott lost a ton of track position after a bad pit-stop. This left the sports most popular driver stuck in traffic, but he was able to make his way back to second. In the final laps, he was easily the best car and appeared to be on his way past Denny Hamlin to take the victory but Kyle Busch had other ideas. The defending champion made a sudden right hand turn and veered into Elliott sending him head on into the wall.

It was safe to say that Elliott was not pleased as he gave Busch the one finger salute as he drove by under caution. The race was not able to resume as Mother Nature intervened giving Hamlin his second win of the season. Many fans and experts alike were critical of Busch's stunt, Jeff Gordon was quoted as saying "Not sure what that was all about." When the race was over, Busch was confronted by Elliott's Crew Chief Alan Gufston. When it was said and done security had to be called to separate the two. While it might not have been intentional, Busch has opened up a can of worms in the future for retaliation. It will be fun to watch what happens next.

Overall, the response to NASCAR's midweek race was overwhelmingly positive as it was the third highest watched event on television. As NASCAR continues to be fluid, more and more people are becoming interested. NASCAR journalist and reporter Adam Stern tweeted that more than thirty percent of the viewers of Sunday's race were new viewers. Even though we may not always agree with the way NASCAR does things, I have to say they have done an outstanding job at putting this schedule together. I hope that in the future, NASCAR continues this new tradition.

Moving on to Charlotte, The driver I have winning this weekend is Chase Elliott. In every race this season, Chase has been a force to be reckoned but has simply run into circumstances he can't control. At Vegas before the shutdown, he seemed to have the race in hand until a flat tire ended any chances of victory. Two weeks later at Phoenix, he led ninety-three laps until fading to a seventh place finish and with a new-found fire lit under him after Darlington, Elliott will be like a bull in the china shop come Sunday. While he has been great at every track he has run at, he has been especially fast at Charlotte. He currently has a 10.60 average finish there and has consistently led laps. This week, I think Elliott will get redemption and claim his sixth career victory in one of NASCAR's crown jewels. Look for him to take his #9 Napa Camaro to victory lane.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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