New Dome Home: Massive Renovations Planned

Astrodome
The eighth wonder of the world could soon get a new lease on life as Harris County officials accept a letter of intent from developers who want to turn the Astrodome into a sprawling hotel and convention complex. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The proposed complex will not only be huge, with 1,000 hotel rooms and 2,100 new parking spaces, it will also be expensive. Developers estimate the renovation could cost upwards of $450 million, $100 million more than it cost to build Reliant Stadium next door. Harris County Commissioners say they like the initial concept and will now wait for officials with the Astrodome Redevelopment Company to secure financing. Scott Hanson is ARC's president.

"We believe in Houston and we believe in the whole Gulf Coast and so we think that there will be a lot of attraction to the facility for those things. But also, we feel that a destination can be built inside the Astrodome and that it itself will attract lots of conventions, lots of groups, people that are interested in a place to go where they can meet and accomplish their goals."

For the County, turning the Dome into a revenue-generating property again is an attractive proposition. It would get $2.5 million a year in rent over a 50-year lease period and also share in revenues generated by the hotel and convention complex. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says the so-called "all-in-one"convention and resort hotel, complete with a huge atrium and at least 20,000 square feet of retail space, makes sense.

"It also provides a great synergy with the other uses of the pad. It ties in with the Metro station on Fannin. It helps the other hotels in the city, in fact, because you bring other conventions in and a big hotel on that pad would let us attract bigger conventions that would then fill other hotels in downtown, the Medical Center, the Galleria and all over the city of Houston."

Developers say they'll keep the Dome's distinctive outer shell intact and build the hotel and convention complex within the existing structure, with millions of dollars invested in upgrades and repairs in the process. Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation Chairman Michael Surface says the project will also have to fit into Reliant Park's current operations.

"You have to remember that we still have over 700 event days a year out there for other uses, so there's a lot of restraints placed upon what you could do within the Dome and still be able to have a normal course of business. Finding something that is not in conflict with what we currrently do, that is complementary to what we do and has some economic viability, when we put that test out there, this is the result of what we found."

Taxpayer money will not be used to build the complex. The Astrodome Redevelopment Company and Harris County hope to have a final contract signed by the end of 2007. Construction could take up to four years, with completion expected sometime in 2010.

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...