Houston Hollywood? Dome Could Be a Studio

With the Astrodome sitting empty and slowly falling apart, backers of a plan to turn it into a giant film and television studio say the Houston icon would make a perfect sound stage. They also say it would boost the state's lagging film industry, which has taken a nose-dive over the past decade or so. Jack Williams reports.
"The greatest show on earth proudly presents the cast of Brewster McCloud."

The Robert Altman cult film, Brewster McCloud, was the first movie filmed in the Astrodome back in 1970. It was also one of the last. Since then, only a handful of films and t-v movies have been shot there, including The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and scenes from 2004's Friday Night Lights. Now a group wants to convert the Dome into a movie studio.

"It keeps the Astrodome the Astrodome."

Cynthia Neely is a partner in Astrodome Studios, a concept that would give new life to an aging Houston landmark.

"Puts people to work. Can be readily and easily converted at the least amount of money. So it's really a very simple plan and it keeps a historic building—a historic building."

Part of the plan would be to turn the Dome's concourse areas into office space that could generate revenue when movies aren't in production.

"Right now our focus is to get tenants that think having a lease inside the Dome would be a productive way to do business and to become part of that hub that we're trying to create. So we're trying to inspire interest in businesses to come be part of the Dome."

Harris County still owns the Dome and pays several million dollars a year to keep it open. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says the film studio idea isn't a bad one at all.

"Now whether it could happen or not, it all depends on whether or not somebody can get financing and really just make the financial package work, and I don't mean with us, but with their lenders. I don't think it's far-fetched at all and in fact, other than the Hideout for the Rodeo, I think the last use of the Dome was filming Friday Night Lights."

The Texas film industry could certainly use a boost. Since the 1990's, it has slowly lost business to other states that offer more robust incentives to movie makers. Rick Ferguson is executive director of the Houston Film Commission.

"Actually, it's been a fairly substantial dip and that's attributable to basically one factor, and that's the fact that we do not have a viable and competitive film incentive program at this point."

Louisiana and New Mexico both offer incentives of up to 25-percent of production costs. Texas offers a 5-percent grant, basically a small refund to productions filmed here.

"Well, certainly it would be helpful to have a large sound stage in the city of Houston. The main thing that would make it attractive is that it would have to be affordable."

And that remains to be seen. Harris County officials are still sorting through other ideas for the Dome. They're working on a lease deal with developers who want to convert the Dome into a hotel and convention center.
Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...