When the Houston Astrodome opened in 1965, it was hailed as technological marvel, the first enclosed, air-conditioned stadium ever—and the "eighth wonder of the world," according to some Texans. By 1995, it was so dilapidated that players refused to use it. Today, it’s an abandoned shell with a different nickname: “the lonely landmark.” And no one knows quite what to do with it.
The Astrodome is the most extreme example of a conundrum facing many American cities: What the heck do we do with gargantuan sports stadiums that aren’t all that old, but can no longer be used? Most cities choose to raze them—often sensationally—but the Astrodome is different. Its history as a beacon of the future, and as the backdrop to sports history, have many Houstonians arguing it should be saved. So while it’s long been declared unfit for occupancy, it also hasn't been torn down.
So for the past ten years, the city has debated dozens of possible ways to retrofit the space. One proposed turning the space into an amusement park, another, an indoor ski hill. One of the most popular ideas came from a University of Houston architecture student who suggested stripping the building down to its skeleton and installing a public park at its center. The idea even appeared in a long op-ed on the fate of the Astrodome by New York Times sports writer Jeré Longman.
A rendering of the park proposal.
But for a multitude of reasons (most of them financial), a scheme called The New Dome Experience is being favored. This plan would gut renovate the 'dome to transform it into a mixed-used convention center and commercial space—in theory, an economic boon for Houston. But not all residents agree with the plan, so in November, the city will ask voters to decide: Should the Astrodome be torn down, or should the city raise several hundred million dollars—via a property tax—to redevelop it?
The "New Dome Experience" proposal.
The vote isn't likely to decide the issue for good, either way. This month, a nationwide competition called Reimagine the Astrodome is inviting architects and designers to submit their ideas for alternative plans for the ‘dome that don't include turing it into a commercial space.
So if Houston voters do end up deciding to raise the money to save the stadium, it’ll likely only be the start of a larger debate—one that questions whether American cities are more obligated to preserve history or bolster economic growth.
Check out a lovely video showing the inside of the empty Astrodome, shot by Brian Traylor, below.