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The Success Of NRG Park Has Made Revitalization At The Astrodome Trickier

As plans for Houston’s historic Astrodome fall to the wayside for the umpteenth time after decades of debate, many Houstonians are wondering if anything will ever happen to the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

Around the declining dome, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. has developed NRG Park, home to NRG Stadium, NRG Center and NRG Arena, restricting many of the possibilities for the Astrodome's redevelopment. 

The Astrodome in Houston

“The Astrodome has a great historical significance for Houston and Harris County. We’ve been working for several years on coming up with ideas. All it takes is money. It's the one thing we just don't have,” Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. Executive Director Ryan Walsh told the audience at Bisnow’s Major Projects in HTX event Thursday.

“The dichotomy is that a lot of the public doesn't see where the dome sits," he continued. "It’s squarely in the middle of a very well-established sports and entertainment district, right in the middle of NRG Park. That makes it very difficult for some of these great ideas we’ve had because of our contractual obligations to our existing tenants, the Rodeo and Texans.”

There is no doubt Rodeo Houston and the Texans each have a special place in Houston’s heart. With the Rodeo in the spring and football in the fall, activity at NRG Park is constant, seeing nearly 750 events yearly. That makes any construction work on the Astrodome site much more difficult, considering the covenants NRG Park has in place. 

Butler-Cohen Design + Build owner Eric Cohen, McCord Development President Ryan McCord, Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. Executive Director Ryan Walsh, DC Partners CEO Roberto Contreras, RHS Interests President Bob Schultz, Buffalo Bayou Partnership Real Estate Project Manager Ian Rosenberg and Rice Management Co. Managing Director Ryan LeVasseur.

“The rodeo is six weeks long. If you’ve got a store or hotel or restaurant, if you can't work something out with the rodeo, you’ve got to shut down for six weeks," Walsh said. "I don't know any business that could shut down for six weeks and still be viable.”

It seems new plans and rumors for the Astrodome surface every few months. Last year, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved spending $100M to turn the Astrodome into a parking garage as a simple revenue generator. The plan was approved under Judge Ed Emmett’s court.

When the newly elected Judge Lina Hidalgo came to power over the Commissioners Court, the plan was reviewed and scrapped

“The plan that had been designed wouldn’t have yielded truly a usable building,” Hidalgo told KPRC. “It’s just not something that would have made it competitive against convention centers elsewhere.”

Other proposals for the Astrodome have included using it as festival space or simply bulldozing it.

Inside of the Astrodome's dome

The issue is the Astrodome is entirely owned by Harris County. While the structure is fully paid for, it has become an integral and inextricable part wedged into the larger NRG complex, particularly since it was designated a historic landmark

“That's been one of our challenges we’ve been working with the community on. How can we find a use for a historical building that fits into contractual obligations that can be a viable revenue generator?” Walsh said. 

For now, Harris County has bigger problems to solve, Hidalgo said. 

Bound by legal machinations between Harris County and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., physical limitations being between NRG Park and NRG Stadium and restrictions from the State Historical Commission, finding the right plan is difficult. If the right plan doesn't come along soon, NRG Park could become the Eighth Wonder's concrete tomb.