HOUSTON (AP) — Houston-area voters were deciding Tuesday whether to pump money into converting the shuttered Astrodome into a convention center or to allow the iconic but dilapidated stadium to proceed toward a likely date with the wrecking ball.
A referendum before voters would authorize up to $217 million in bonds to transform the so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World” into a giant convention and event center and exhibition space. Officials in Harris County, which includes much of Houston, have said the stadium that was once home to professional baseball and football teams will likely be torn down if the ballot measure fails to pass.
High school teacher Frank Vega, 59, said the dome proposal was the only reason he was voting.
“I’ve lived in places where people have respect for history, time and space,” he said. “It would be a mockery to knock something down that once was a first of its kind.”
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart expected about 100,000 voters Tuesday, down slightly from the 109,000 who cast ballots in early voting that ended Friday. The county has just under 2 million eligible voters, and the early total was a record for elections with no national or statewide offices at stake.
A coalition of local and national preservation groups as well as a political action committee have banded together to get the referendum passed with the slogan, “Save the Dome.” While there hasn’t been an organized effort against the referendum, some opponents have said the money to refurbish the Astrodome could be better spent on other projects.
Don Gray, 84, who is retired from the oil business, said his vote Tuesday opposing the dome proposal was difficult “because I love the history of it.”
But he said the stadium renovation would be “a big waste of money.”
“I hate to see them tear it down, but I think opposed to the alternative, that’s the thing to do.”
The referendum calls for creating 350,000 square feet of exhibition space by removing all the interior seats and raising the floor to street level. Other changes include creating 400,000 square feet of plaza and green space on the outside of the structure as part of the project, dubbed “The New Dome Experience.”
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was home to MLB’s Astros and the NFL’s Houston Oilers. It was spacious enough to fit an 18-story building under its 208-foot-high roof.
But it hasn’t been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009. While still structurally sound, the landmark stadium has fallen into disrepair. On Saturday, thousands of people bought stadium seats, pieces of AstroTurf and other items at a “yard sale” and auction of Astrodome memorabilia.
The stadium’s most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
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