When it opened in 1965, the Houston Astrodome was the first of its kind, an air-conditioned indoor stadium that could host professional baseball, football, and other sporting events. Over the next four decades, the Dome was home to Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and the NFL’s Houston Oilers, and in that span it hosted one of the biggest college basketball games in history — the Game of the Century between UCLA and Houston, which set an attendance record and launched the modern college basketball TV explosion — and the Republican National Convention.
But in the decade-plus since the Houston Astros left for a new ballpark, the Dome has stood mostly vacant, serving as a temporary respite for Hurricane Katrina refugees in 2005 but closed since 2009 by building code violations. And now, it seems the Astrodome’s time on earth is coming to an end, as Texas voters chose Tuesday to reject a $217-million bond sale that would be used to update the facility and convert it into a massive new convention center.
As a result, a building that once stood as such an engineering marvel it was called the “eighth wonder of the world” faces an almost certain demolition. Historical preservationists rallied behind the cause, but opponents argued that the city and state could put the bond money to better use (the cost of demolition is estimated between $29 million and $78 million), and they’re probably right.
The Astrodome played a big role in different stadium and sports developments. Its struggles with real grass led to the use of AstroTurf, which quickly spread around sports, and it was part of the multipurpose cookie-cutter stadium fad of the 1960s and ’70s. The idea of playing in indoor, climate-controlled environments led to the development of retractable roofs that now dot the stadium landscape. And it’s four-story animated scoreboard, the AstroLite, led to the development and proliferation of the JumboTron and other animated scoreboards.
The AstroDome was never on my bucket list the way other ballparks, like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, were (I’ve made it to both, and neither are on the verge of obsolescence, thankfully), and I won’t ever have the same amount of disappointment for not making it to the Dome as I had when Yankee Stadium and Tiger Stadium were demolished before I could get to either. But unlike many of the awful stadiums that came around the same time and the domes it spawned, most of which have met their demise already, the AstroDome is a major piece of history for both baseball and architecture. So as a stadium nerd who’s always enjoyed the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of ballpark design (if not how they’re financed), seeing it fall will be at least a little weird and maybe even sad — even if it’s the right financial decision for the city.
In related news, I wrote yesterday about four other cities that had mayoral elections with stadium implications. In New York, Bill deBlasio won handily, as expected. His position on a proposed soccer stadium in Queens or the Bronx or somewhere inside the city isn’t quite clear. In Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, who opposes public financing for a proposed expansion to the Steelers’ Heinz Field, won in a landslide. Betsy Hodges, one of the six original opponents to public financing for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, won Minneapolis’ mayoral race, but as Neil deMause at Field of Schemes notes, it’s unlikely her opposition will have much affect on how the disastrous Minnesota situation plays out.
And in St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman easily defeated incumbent mayor Bill Foster, who has been the biggest thorn in the side of Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays as the team tries to explore new stadium options. Kriseman is open to letting the Rays look around in Tampa, but not without paying to break the lease they have with St. Pete’s Tropicana Field first. That’s not radically different from Foster’s plan, but given MLB and Tampa’s apparent urgency in wanting to get out of The Trop, we should learn soon whether Kriseman is a more willing partner when it comes to the Rays’ efforts to move to Tampa or somewhere beyond.
Voters in Houston also rejected another bond deal that would have devoted $69.5 million football stadium for a local high school.