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    Photo courtesy Chuck Lee

On Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioners approved  a proposed $105 million project to raise the floor of the Astrodome, creating 1,400 parking spaces below. This would make the Astrodome a viable space for concerts and events, and free up some of the surrounding surface parking lots to be used for new development.

The decision is a reversal of previous plans for the structure. A 2013 bond proposal that would have financed a renovation failed, and it looked as though the Astrodome would be demolished to make way for new construction. Simply tearing down the structure would cost $30 million, which currently costs $170,000 a year to maintain. Any decision about the Astrodome’s future must first be approved by the Texas Historic Commission, since it was declared a “state antiquities landmark.”

The $10.5 million initial phase of the project will be used to find an architect and engineer who would create designs for the project. It is unclear what would happen if the selected teams propose a design that costs more than the earmarked $105 million to implement.

Of that $105 million, one third will come from property taxes, one third from hotel taxes, and one third from county parking revenues. The plan would eventually supplement those revenues, as the parking spaces at the Astrodome would come at a premium and generate new parking revenue.

So, will the Astrodome rise from the ashes to become a vibrant piece of Houston’s urban fabric? It seems too soon to tell. This first approval is one of many that will be needed in the months and years to come. For now, this appears to be a creative solution that preserves an architectural landmark while making it functional for the present.

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