DALLAS — A plan to convert the vacant Houston Astrodome into a multipurpose center and hotel could require as much as $900 million of bond debt, according to Harris County officials.
Any bonds to redevelop the world’s first domed stadium would require voter approval, with an election not likely before 2012, according to Willie Loston, executive director of the stadium’s owner, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. The bonds would probably be listed on the ballot in pieces rather than as a single, large bond issue, Loston said.
After years of discussion about what to do with the former “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the sports agency presented three alternatives for the Harris County commissioners to study on Monday.
The most costly proposal would require a $1.35 billion investment, with about a third backed by local taxes, officials said. That proposal would create something called Astrodome Renaissance, which would include a conference center, interactive exhibits simulating space travel and deep sea exploration, museums, an alternative energy center and a movie studio.
The plan would include the adjacent Reliant Stadium where the National Football League’s Houston Texans play. The cost of the Astrodome redevelopment alone would be $588 million, officials said.
A slightly less expensive option, at $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion, would gut the Astrodome and create a science and technology center with solar panels on the roof.
The third option is to raze the Astrodome at a cost to taxpayers of $128 million and build a new hotel that would not require public outlays. All of the plans for the Astrodome include Reliant Stadium, which is part of the area known as Reliant Park. Completed in 2002 at a cost of $352 million, Reliant Stadium has a retractable roof and luxury features beyond what were available in the Astrodome.
The original Astrodome tenants, Major League Baseball’s Astros, have moved to Minute Maid Park, another stadium with a retractable roof in downtown Houston. Minute Maid Park, originally Enron Field, was completed in 2000 for $250 million.
While the Astrodome has not served as a sports venue since the Astros left and remains unused, it still carries $32 million of public debt, about the same amount in nominal terms that it cost to build.
The debt remains from a $60 million remodeling in the late 1980s designed to keep the NFL’s Houston Oilers playing in the stadium. That effort failed as team owner Bud Adams moved the team to Tennessee in 1996. The bonds, backed by hotel tax revenue, mature in 22 years.
In addition to $2.4 million in annual debt service on the Astrodome bonds, local taxes cover about $2 million annually in insurance and maintenance costs.
Other stadiums that still carried bond debt after they were abandoned or razed include Seattle’s Kingdome, Olympic Stadium in Montreal, and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Three Rivers still had $45 million of debt when it was demolished in 2001. King County, Wash., paid off the Kingdome five years after it was razed in 2000.
The Astrodome, which opened in 1965 as the home of the Astros, sheltered fans from Houston’s stifling heat, with temperatures maintained at 72 degrees. The stadium also introduced artificial turf known as Astroturf because real grass would not grow under the dome.
The Astrodome’s most visible use in recent years came in 2005 when it became a relief shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.