An advisory panel from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) has recommended repurposing the Astrodome as a multi-use facility and public park. After spending a week in Houston, the group of ten real estate professionals presented its findings Friday morning during a public meeting at NRG Center.
The panel included urban economists, developers and designers from across the country. In developing their recommendations for the county-owned stadium, the panelists interviewed more than 80 community leaders and stakeholders, included representatives from the Houston Texas NFL football team and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the two major tenants at NRG Park.
Los Angeles developer Wayne Ratkovich, the panel’s chair, said that redeveloping the Dome would require the same type of bold leadership that built the world’s first climate-controlled stadium. He noted that Houston was known as a city of “grand ambitions and grand achievements” and stated that a revitalized Astrodome could continue to host historic events and activities that enhance the quality of life for all Houstonians. Panel member and former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy challenged Harris County residents, saying they had “an intersection of choices: bold or timid and common interest vs. self-interest” to create an exciting civic experience.
The centerpiece of the project would be an indoor park featuring a variety of cultural and recreational destinations, including a public viewing area and running track on one of the former seating tiers near the top of the Dome. The park would have removable turf to provide a solid floor for special events such as Super Bowl LI in 2017, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and Offshore Technology Conference. The park would be constructed above a two-level parking garage with 2000 spaces that would provide one potential source of revenue for the project.
The panel envisions a natural gathering place with individual programmable spaces. In a nod toward energy efficiency and reduced maintenance costs, the panel suggested building four open-air portals to provide natural ventilation and give the space “an indoor/outdoor character”; smaller climate-controlled buildings would be constructed within the Dome for public programming and to provide rental income.
The recommendations go beyond the stadium’s interior and would surround the Dome with green space. A major feature of the plan is a park and live oak allée connecting the historic stadium with the MetroRail station. The proposal also calls for shaded connectors between the Astrodome, NRG Stadium, and NRG Center.
The panelists suggested creating a public/private partnership to move forward with the project. They emphasized the remarkable history of both Harris County and the City of Houston in getting things done and cited Discovery Green, the recreation areas along Buffalo Bayou, and BBVA Compass Stadium as successful models for the proposed Dome partnership. The panel also noted the important role that tax credits could play in the project, including state and federal historic preservation incentives.
The panel’s work was sponsored by the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. (HCSCC) with support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Houston’s national partner. Friday’s presentation is on the HCSCC website. The panel’s written report will be completed in the next 60 to 90 days.
Preservation Houston will continue to serve as a resource in the redevelopment efforts for the Astrodome and will keep its members apprised of any updates related to the ULI study