State commission postpones vote on designation for Astrodome that could help save landmark


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HOUSTON — A state historical panel on Wednesday delayed action on a proposal that would have given the Houston Astrodome extra protection from the wrecking ball, a move intended to give local officials more time to evaluate potential uses for the iconic structure.

The world's first multipurpose domed stadium is under consideration for a "state antiquities landmark" designation that would make it more difficult to tear it down, though its future continues to be uncertain after the Texas Historical Commission indefinitely postponed a vote on the matter.

"The commission recognizes the historical and architectural significance of the Astrodome, and supports continuing efforts to find a compatible use that will preserve this Houston icon," the commission said in a statement following its meeting in the West Texas city of Alpine.

The antiquities landmark designation would not bar demolition but would mean any proposals to alter or tear down the Astrodome would need commission approval. These same requirements will be in effect while the antiquities designation request is pending.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called the delay "the appropriate thing right now" as it will give county leaders, preservation groups and other interested parties more time to develop proposals for the Astrodome's reuse.

The Astrodome is not in any immediate danger of being demolished after voters last year didn't authorize $217 million in bonds to turn it into a multipurpose special events center. But local officials have continued to struggle to find an alternative use.

Opened in 1965, the Astrodome hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009. While still structurally sound, the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World had fallen into disrepair. Stadium seats, pieces of AstroTurf and other Astrodome items were sold to the public late last year.

The stadium's most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The National Park Service added the Astrodome to its National Register of Historic Places in January.

Any decision on the Astrodome's future will ultimately be made by Harris County commissioners, the group of local officials who manage the county.

Earlier this month, a $66 million proposal was unveiled to destroy the historic stadium to make way for green space. The plan would preserve column-like structures around the stadium and use them to display plaques honoring the stadium's history. Inside the circle of columns would be a green space as well as a 25,000-square-foot replica of the stadium that would house an Astrodome hall of fame.

Various ideas have been proposed over the years to refurbish the Astrodome, from water park to sports memorabilia museum. But they have all gained little traction. Emmett, a proponent of reusing the Astrodome, has insisted any proposals would have to be paid through private sector funding.

"I'm confident there is a great idea out there and I'm sure the funding hurdle can be surmounted," said Beth Wiedower, senior field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation who was at Wednesday's meeting.


Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/juanlozano70.

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