Make The Astrodome Great Again

Patrick Creighton; Embrace the Astrodome project, it’s your only hope

Deal with it. The Astrodome project is good for the city.

Tuesday the Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to proceed with a $105M renovation of the Astrodome.  The project will raise the floor of the dome by 30 feet, creating 1400 underground parking spaces.  It will also create over 500,000 square feet of usable, rentable space to generate revenue.

The space, which is essentially eight acres of wide open weatherproof space, could be used by dozens of festivals and events (the Offshore Technology Conference had been previously given as an example).  

This is finally the step forward that the county has needed to take with the Astrodome for over a decade, and should be a happy day in the county to discuss the possibilities the building presents.

However, there are those who are against the plan for a variety of reasons.  Those complaints are short sighted, misinformed, or just flat out factually inaccurate.  Here’s why:

Complaint A: The Astrodome is an eyesore.  It should be torn down.

Whether or not you appreciate the aesthetics of the building, it cannot be torn down.  In January 2017, the Texas Historical Commission designated the Astrodome an historical landmark.  As the legal custodian of the Antiquities Code, the Texas Historical Commission has jurisdiction on the building now, and any plans for the dome must now be approved by the THC.

Tearing the building down is not a legal option.  

Complaint B: It’s a waste of money.

The Astrodome currently costs approximately $177,000 per year to ‘maintain’.  The building has been deemed unsuitable for use since 2009, therefore that $177,000 is basically being flushed down a toilet.  That is what is known as a waste of money.

The current project is an investment into renovation and future earnings.  You have to spend money to make money, right?  Well, you especially have to spend it when the building has been neglected for close to two decades.   It’s a choice of making it suitable for business to make money or leaving it there to rot and throwing away that maintenance money.  At least this alternative gives you something positive.

Complaint C: It should have went to a vote.

The reason past attempts to renovate the Astrodome went to public vote was because new debt was to be incurred in the form of bonds to finance the project.  Having the county take on new debt requires a referendum.

In this case, no new debt is being accrued.  There is no bond being used to finance the project.  There is no new tax being created to finance the project, and there is no tax increase being enacted to finance the project.  Hence, no vote was needed.

These are funds the county already has. $35M of which comes from the general fund (property taxes), $35M comes from the Hotel Occupancy Tax (thanks to all our visitors!) and the final $35M will come from the proceeds generated by the Astrodome’s rentals once it’s operational.

Complaint D: Voters already voted for it to be demolished.

This is factually inaccurate.  Voters voted down a proposal for a $217M bond to renovate the Astrodome in 2013.  There was no proposal on a ballot to tear it down.

At the time, some civic leaders feared that tearing it down would be the most likely outcome following the failure to pass the bond initiative, but no part of that measure was tearing the building down an option that was voted on, nor was it something that was committed to by the Commissioners Court.

Subsequently, the Commissioners Court came up with an alternative plan to tearing down the building which would make the building profitable.  

Also, as previously explained in Complaint A, tearing it down is no longer a legal option.

Complaint E: The money should be used for issues related to Hurricane Harvey

This is the ‘low hanging fruit’ complaint.  It’s easy to just throw Harvey into the mix on anything to draw up an emotional response, but to be completely honest, the idea that this money being spent on the Astrodome somehow is taking away money from Harvey victims, or from infrastructure repair and improvement, is not only factually inaccurate but it’s a shameful misleading of the public.

Tuesday, Gov. Abbott announced $1 billion in new funding from FEMA for Hurricane Harvey related issues, not limited to buying out flood prone homes, building new seawalls and jetties, restoring sand dunes, channeling waterways, new storm surge protection projects and more.  $500M of that money is immediately available, and the rest will be made available on the one year anniversary of the storm in last August.  The funds will be used from Rockport to Beaumont.

The unreleased funds are to be issued to those municipalities that submit requests for funding for their projects.

There is an entirely different, and much larger, piggy bank for Harvey recovery.  One does not preclude or impede the other.

Also, keep in mind, last week Congress passed a bill allocating $90 billion in relief for areas hit hard by Hurricanes (Texas and Florida).  There will be more Federal Aid making its way to Houston as well.

Considering that of the $105 million allocated for the Astrodome project, only $35 million would even be legally eligible for a relief earmark, as the Hotel Occupancy Tax cannot legally be used for Hurricane relief, and the Astrodome revenues do not yet exist.  That argument breaks down to “$35 million wasn’t allocated for Harvey related issues but $46 billion was, so, the government is doing it all wrong.”  $46 billion vs $35 million.  I’m not even going to address that with my usual high level of snark because I clearly don’t have to.

It should be pretty clear by now that this is the best possible way to move forward with the Astrodome, so lose the negativity, stop the hate, and embrace progress.  Something great could be on the horizon.  Isn’t that better than status quo?

#MAGA.  Make Astrodome Great Again!

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