Yesterday voters in Harris County Texas were asked a simple question on their ballot, do they or do they not want to spend $217 million in bonds to turn the world’s first multipurpose domed stadium into a giant convention and exhibition space.
Early returns show that 53 percent of voters do not want to see the so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World” turned into convention space which likely means the Astrodome will go the way of many stadiums before it and become nothing more than a pile of rubble while living on in the memories of those who see the Dome for what it was and not what it became.
By the time I moved to Texas the Astrodome was already on the decline of its lifecycle having lost the Astros to Minute Maid Park and the Texans to the Reliant Stadium which was built right next door to the Astrodome.
Without a “professional” tenant, and with other venues to maintain, the Astrodome was left to host the occasional high school football game and other event that was a far cry from the days when tens of thousands of screaming fans would pack the place and cheer their teams to victory.
Even the rodeo moved next door to Reliant Stadium. In many ways the Astrodome was a venue hanging on by a thread for years.
That thread broke when the Astrodome was deemed unfit for occupation due to neglect and structural issues which made it impossible to hold any events inside it.
So the Astrodome sat vacant and slowly deteriorated from the inside out. Those bright rainbow colored seats gathered dust while elected officials and citizens alike tried to determine what to do with the building that meant so much to so many people.
I never saw the Astrodome in its prime but I am able to say that I covered a high school playoff game inside the Astrodome about a decade ago. I can’t remember if it was a sectional game or a regional game. I could not even say with certainty which teams were involved.
I do remember thinking as I was approaching the building that I was entering a historic place since the Astrodome was the first stadium where football and baseball were played in climate controlled comfort.
Of course when I entered the stadium I could tell that the years of use and the decrease in maintenance budget was taking its toll on the facility.
Instead of looking like a polished jewel the Astrodome looked exactly like the 40 plus year old facility that it was.
That is in no way a condemnation on the people who were charged with maintaining the facility. The fact remains as buildings age they require more resources to turn back the clock and stay fresh.
The same thing will happen to those shiny new facilities that replaced the Astrodome. Every building at some point is going to start showing its age and one either needs to pump more money into it or let it go.
So that is what the election was about at its core. It was up to the people to put their money where their mouth was and decide if it was worth spending their tax dollars to convert the Astrodome into a multipurpose facility or if it was time to say goodbye to it and let the wrecking ball finish what time and neglect had started.
Of course there is a price tag associated with demolishing the Astrodome as well. It is estimated that between $20 and $80 million will be required to tear down the Astrodome. Once the Astrodome is gone the place where it rose from the ground will likely be turned into a parking garage for the facilities left standing.
There are those that say that it is a travesty for the Astrodome to be torn down for parking while there are others who say that more parking will enhance their experience at the Stadium, Arena and other venues in Reliant Park just in time for the return of the Super Bowl.
I have no emotional attachment to the Astrodome but I understand those who do.
Fans across the country are used to saying goodbye to once popular venues once replacements have been built. Yankee Stadium was replaced. Tiger Stadium was replaced. Cowboy Stadium was replaced. The list goes on and on of sports facilities that have met the wrecking ball.
Two Ballparks where I watched games, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, have been torn down. One Ballpark from my past, Tinker Field, in Orlando, still is defying the odds though.
Growing up I went to many baseball games there for both Spring Training and Minor League games. From having the General Manager of Orlando Magic and Orlando Sun Rays, Pat Williams, come and sit with me and my mother and talk baseball to having a front row seat to watch Max Patkin the Clown Prince of Baseball perform there are many memories inside Tinker Field. Tinker Field was also where I met Earl Weaver at home plate.
Tinker Field is located right up against the Citrus Bowl Stadium and every so often there are calls to tear down Tinker Field to make more parking for games at the Citrus Bowl since Tinker Field is currently without a major tenant since the Orlando Rays left for the Ballpark at Walt Disney World before leaving town altogether for Alabama.
I know that someday the wrecking ball will come and wipe away that little ballpark but what it can’t wipe away are all of the memories that I have from sitting in the ballpark. Just like the fact that Memorial Stadium being torn down does not change the fact that I saw my first Major League Baseball game there.
Likewise, there are people who have memories of the Astrodome. There are people who remember attending a game with a family member who may no longer be with them.
There is the memory of the excitement of just seeing their first football or baseball game and all of the sights and sounds related to that.
For some the memory might be playing in a high school football game inside the Astrodome and feeling that thrill of victory.
Whatever the memory someone has of the Astrodome the actual physical presence of the building will not take away those memories.
And it is likely that after an initial “garage sale” this past weekend where fans were able to purchase pieces of the Astrodome from seats to Astroturf, more tangible parts of the building will be sold off to fans as keepsakes.
And while the demolition order has not been signed for the Astrodome the writing on the wall is getting clearer that the eighth wonder of the world will soon be just a memory like so many of those ballparks and stadiums before it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some old pictures from Tinker Field to look at.
Copyright 2013 R. Anderson