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.

Tropical system could bring flooding rain to our area

WeatherMap: Another heavy rain event is here

Pivotal Weather

When it comes to Houston weather nothing is gradual. Over the past couple of months we have slipped into a drought after a very wet past couple of years. Well this week that changes as Houston goes from drought to potentially flood in just a couple of days. In anticipation of this event the National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch from 1 PM today until 1 PM Wednesday, though in all likelihood this will be extended through Thursday.

The Set Up: An area of low pressure has set up in the Gulf of Mexico south east of Matagorda and will be sending extremely high levels of atmospheric moisture into our area over the next couple of days. The system could organize enough to become a tropical depression or tropical storm before moving in around Matagorda tonight, but that will be of little significance. The problem will be that this system will be moving very slowly between now and Thursday putting us under the gun for heavy rain.


Very high atmospheric moisture levels moving into the area over the next 72 hoursWeathermodels.com


How Much Rain: Computer models seem to be coming into better agreement that between Matagorda and Beaumont widespread amount of 5-8 inches of rain will be possible. The fly in the ointment is that there will likely be isolated jackpot zones that could see 10-15 inches of rain. Now if all of this rain were to be evenly disbursed over the next 72 hours there probably wouldn't be major impacts as the ground has been so dry. However, that is not going to happen. As is often the case with these tropical air masses, rain will come in very heavy bursts that can dump 3, 4, or 5 inches of rain in very short order. Right now street flooding in usual trouble spot looks quite possible, but more significant impacts, while not certain right now, are not off the table.

Best reasonable guess at rainfall totals through Friday morning. There could be spots that get higher amounts.Pivotal Weather

When: Rain is already coming down this morning which will serve help saturate the ground. The rain today shouldn't be too much of an issue. While there could be some heavy showers at times it should remain manageable. The time frame for more significant impacts looks to be between tomorrow morning and Thursday afternoon. During this time waves of heavy rain will move through piling up good accumulations in short periods of time. Depending on where the center of this system tracks Wednesday night into Thursday morning may need to be watched for what is called a core rain event. This is when very heavy rainfall concentrates around the center of low pressure at night due in part to temperature changed in the atmosphere after the sun goes down. This isn't a guarantee but is something that I am watching out for.

Where: This is the million dollar question. There is a good idea of the broad area of concern which I have highlighted in the map below.


Area of concern for heavy rain highlighted in orange box.

However, it is nearly impossible to forecast exactly which neighborhoods will see the heaviest rains. Unfortunately these events involve a good bit of "now-casting" where we have to watch how things develop to know which spots may be hit hardest. The key in these situations is to prepare as though you may be in one of the bulls-eyes and hope that you aren't. Any one location's odds of getting 15+ inches of rain from this system is low, but no where within the area of concern has a 0% chance.

The frustrating part of these storms is that there is high variability in what impacts will be. I am confident everyone will get at least a healthy amount of rain which should at the very least be beneficial for our parched yards. I am also confident that someone will get too much rain over the next 72 hours, but again, I just can't tell you who it will be. Right now the best thing to do is to be prepared for heavy rain and possible flooding impacts between late tonight and Thursday afternoon. I will be back later tonight or tomorrow morning with an update.

As always you can find me on Twitter @stephenuzick

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