Dome Likely Doomed to Scrap Heap by Voters

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.

The Astrodome seen during the Grand Prix of Houston may soon exist only in the memories of those who have visited it after voters rejected a $217 million plan to save it. Photo R. Anderson

The Astrodome seen during the Grand Prix of Houston may soon exist only in the memories of those who have visited it after voters rejected a $217 million plan to save it.
Photo R. Anderson

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.

Reliant Stadium was built next to the Astrodome and became the go to facility for football and rodeo events while the Astrodome fell into disrepair and neglect. Photo R. Anderson

Reliant Stadium was built next to the Astrodome and became the go to facility for football and rodeo events while the Astrodome fell into disrepair and neglect.
Photo R. Anderson

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.

Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida was once home to the Kansas City Royals for Spring Training. Today the stadium is gone and has been replaced by an outlet mall showing that stadiums have a shelf life and if the Astrodome is demolished it will not be the first facility to meet that fate. Photo R. Anderson

Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida was once home to the Kansas City Royals for Spring Training. Today the stadium is gone and has been replaced by an outlet mall showing that stadiums have a shelf life and if the Astrodome is demolished it will not be the first facility to meet that fate.
Photo R. Anderson

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.

Soon the skyline around Reliant Park may be missing one large Astrodome sized piece. Photo R. Anderson

Soon the skyline around Reliant Park may be missing one large Astrodome sized piece.
Photo R. Anderson

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

Race Experience Offers Something for Everyone, Especially Corporate Sponsors

This past weekend all three of NASCAR’s top series came to Fort Worth, Texas.

From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, the track was a flurry of activity as thousands of fans came from far and wide to see their favorite drivers in the Camping World, Nationwide and Sprint series up close and personal.

And while it was the action on the race track that they were coming for, fans were given a veritable plethora of ways to get into the race experience before a single lap was run on the track.

The prerace week activities start with the arrival of the show cars. The show cars travel the country during race season on the back of trailers like a band of high octane gypsies parking in front of grocery stores and other outlets where fans can see the cars up close and occasionally get a poster with their favorite driver on it.

The annual parade of show cars hit the Walmart outside of Texas Motor Speedway over the weekend. Photo R. Anderson

The annual parade of show cars hit the Walmart outside of Texas Motor Speedway over the weekend.
Photo R. Anderson

One popular stop for show cars and fans alike heading to the Texas Motor Speedway is a Walmart located about five miles away from the speedway grounds.

Even though published reports stated that there would only be one show car at the Walmart this year it appears that car brought a few of its friends along as around a half dozen show cars were parked outside the Walmart Saturday morning.

Once a fan has their fill of show cars it is off to the race track where the entire front stretch is turned into a fan carnival of sorts with vendors of all shapes and sizes competing for the attention and in some cases money from the loyal fans.

And NASCAR fans are certainly loyal which is why so much is spent on sponsorship. Study after study has shown that fans will flock to certain products if they are endorsed by their favorite drivers.

While I have never ruled out a certain product just because it was endorsed by a driver I did not like, I did tend to buy Valvoline oil more than any other oil when Mark Martin drove the Valvoline sponsored car.

On race weekend the front stretch of Texas Motor Speedway, like all NASCAR tyracks, is turned into a carnival of sorts where vendors peddle their wares and fans look for a bargain on driver gear. Photo R. Anderson

On race weekend the front stretch of Texas Motor Speedway, like all NASCAR tracks, is turned into a carnival of sorts where vendors peddle their wares and fans look for a bargain on driver gear.
Photo R. Anderson

And with virtually every inch of both car and fire suit available for a sponsor’s logo it is a given that a sport built on commercial partnerships such as NASCAR would create an environment where their commercial partners can lure the fans in to marketing studies under the guise of a free hat or T-shirt.

One would be hard pressed to walk more than five feet in the fan experience zone without having someone “barking” at them to try to win something or to fill out a survey for this or that.

It should be noted that the midway at a NASCAR race is not just about product placement and giveaways.

The midway also includes numerous merchandise trailers where fans can get the latest driver gear and in some cases meet the driver’s during autograph sessions.

Of course drivers were not the only celebrities in town as part of the traveling circus that is NASCAR.

This weekend fans were treated to the opportunity to meet cast members of both “Fast and Loud” and “Duck Dynasty.”

John Godwin and Justin Martin of the television show "Duck Dynasty" take part in a game of tire plinko at the fan experience in front of Texas Motor Speedway. Photo R. Anderson

John Godwin and Justin Martin of the television show “Duck Dynasty” take part in a game of tire plinko at the fan experience in front of Texas Motor Speedway.
Photo R. Anderson

With the understanding that many fans of NASCAR are also fans of the two shows, it was a given that stars would want to meet and greet with some of their fans.

And all of that shopping and survey filling is bound to work up an appetite so there are various vendors selling food and drinks from all ends of the spectrum to help provide that needed nourishment.

So even before stepping foot inside the track itself fans have hours worth of entertainment in the shadow of the grandstands.

Oh yeah, there was also a race going on in side the track facility.

Once inside the track the parade of sponsors continues with name dropping of various sponsors that helped make the race possible.

Almost every inch of available space is adorned with a sponsor logo of some sort. In some cases one sponsor is the presenter of said event with another sponsor being called out as the primary sponsor.

While it can be easy to forget there is a race going on inside with all of the fun happening outside the track Brad Keselowski (second car from right) won the Saturday race. Photo R. Anderson

While it can be easy to forget there is a race going on inside with all of the fun happening outside the track Brad Keselowski (second car from right) won the Saturday race.
Photo R. Anderson

During a sports marketing class in college we discussed the person behind sponsoring the broom used to sweep up sweat on basketball courts and whether they were a genius for finding a new revenue stream or someone who was taking things to far.

In the years that have followed since that class and the new items that are now “sponsored” it appears that nothing is sacred if someone is willing to provide money to sponsor it.

NASCAR has a televised prayer before each race and I am waiting for the day when the person giving that prayer is given a list of sponsors that need to be mentioned during it a la Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights” who is contractually obligated to mention a certain sports drink in every pre meal prayer.

Once in awhile a minister will mention the name of the race in their prayer which does include the sponsor but it has not come to the full extreme of unnecessary sponsor name dropping while heads are bowed.

Let’s just hope that no driver goes so far as to sell advertising space on their windshields since that appears to be the only area of real estate still up for grabs..

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to purchase some products endorsed by some of my favorite drivers; soda cookies anyone?

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

I Wanna Go Fast

For as long as I can remember I have had a need for speed.

Of course as a reporter working on deadline speed is an essential job qualification.

In terms of breaking news there is the speed of needing to be first on the scene when the story is breaking to be able to interview all of the main subjects.

Once back in the office, speed is essential in order to get the story written by deadline to ensure that the story makes the next day’s paper.

There is no worse feeling as a journalist than to be scooped by one’s competition so the need to be first is critical.

During my journalism career I never missed a deadline and often scooped the competition.

This attention to deadlines and speed is a part of all of my endeavors and can be both a blessing and a curse.

Once in a while the speed manifests itself in going too fast on the highway which can sometimes result in a chat with local law enforcement and online defensive driving school.

Other times the speed manifests itself in reading something faster than those around me. Although I was never formally trained in speed reading I have found that I can read and comprehend things very quickly.

The sight and sound of 43 stock cars roaring towards you is something you don't quickly forget. Photo R. Anderson

The sight and sound of 43 stock cars roaring towards you is something you don’t quickly forget.
Photo R. Anderson

In school I was often the first student to complete their assignments which led to a lot of idle time waiting on my slower classmates to finish their work.

I was not necessarily trying to finish before everyone else but it just turned out that way.

So throughout my life the love of speed and the quest to go fast has been harnessed in mostly constructive ways.

While my speedy mannerisms have not always been embraced by those around me this weekend I will be around a group of people who also shares the need for speed when I attend a NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway outside of Fort Worth, TX.

The track is around four hours away from me and of course I try to break my personal best time to get up there whenever I make the drive.

Realistically I could probably make the drive in a lot shorter amount of time but there are so many cool places that I like to stop along the way so four hours is a good goal to meet.

For those who have never experienced a NASCAR race in person it is truly a sight to behold. If one were to go purely with the goal of people watching in the grandstands they would not be disappointed as there are so many things to see.

The fact that there is a race to watch as well is just icing on the cake.

From the sounds of the cars as they pass by at close to 200 miles per hour to the smell of the burning rubber there is just something about seeing a race in person.

Kevin Harvick shown during happier times is currently fueding with the grandsons of his soon to be ex boss showing how the competitive drive is never ending. Photo R. Anderson

Kevin Harvick shown during happier times is currently feuding with the grandsons of his soon to be ex boss showing how the competitive drive is never ending.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, television still offers the best vantage point for seeing the entire race since views are limited when seated in person but I highly recommended that everyone experience a race in person at least once.

This will mark my fourth visit to this particular track since moving to Texas with the last visit occurring in 2011.

The race was delayed by rain the first year I tried to see it so I was unable to watch the cars go fast. I had better luck the second and third visits to the Texas Motor Speedway with sunny skies and fast cars as far as the eye could see.

The weather forecast this time calls for similar conditions come race time so I am hopeful that once again I will be able to see the cars go by at full speed.

Jamie McMurray will look to add to his win total this weekend when the Sprint Cup rolls into Texas Motor Speedway. Photo R. Anderson

Jamie McMurray will look to add to his win total this weekend when the Sprint Cup rolls into Texas Motor Speedway.
Photo R. Anderson

And as was the case during my last visit to the track in 2011 I will be sitting on the front row where I will likely have rubber that has worn from the tires and created “marbles” on the track land on me. Having actual debris from the cars land on you is definitely something that cannot be experienced by watching the race on the couch at home.

So if you happen to be watching the race this weekend and see a really happy person covered in tiny flecks of Goodyear Racing Eagles there is a strong possibility that it could be me.

Of course it could just as easily be one of my couple of thousand new friends who are checking out the scene as well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a race to get to.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson