Harris County judge proposes turning Astrodome into indoor park

Astrodome 2014

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced a proposal Tuesday, Aug. 26 to convert The Astrodome, the nearly 50-year-old structure once referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” into the world’s largest indoor park and recreation center. Emmett claimed the plan would offer a year-round venue for exercise, education, family gatherings and community events.

Emmett unveiled his proposal from the floor of the Dome, which he described as the realization of Judge Roy Hofheinz’s “vision of the future.” Hofheinz was county judge of Harris County from 1936 to 1944, and mayor of the city of Houston from 1953 to 1955. He was part of the group that built the Astrodome.

“I believe it is time to put forth a new vision for the future of the Dome,” Emmett said. “With that in mind, I am suggesting that we explore the concept of creating an indoor park and recreation area inside the Dome for the people of Harris County. The world’s largest indoor park.”

Emmett has been exploring the indoor park concept with local officials, stakeholders and interested parties for the past couple months, his website states, seeking input and suggestions and refining the idea. While details of the concept are still being refined, Emmett suggested leaving it open to the public except when in use by tenants like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Offshore Technology Conference, or others. He also recommended including a large, open green space that would be perfect for festivals and other community gatherings. Emmett also proposed having a pavilion for music and other events and sporting facilities from archery ranges to hiking and biking trails.

“Rather than try to convert the Dome into something it was never intended to be, I think it is time to look back to the original vision of Judge Hofheinz,” Emmett said. “That vision was to provide a place for traditional outdoor activities in a climate-controlled space. A space like none other in the world.”

Similar ideas have failed in the past, however. In June 2013, a comprehensive plan was unveiled that would have seen the aging structure undergo an almost $200 million renovation into a multi-purpose event/convention facility. The measure would have to have been approved first through a bond election in Harris County for the publicly funded project to go forward or else, officials warned, the iconic structure would be demolished. On November 5, 2013, voters in Houston turned down the referendum to renovate and convert the Astrodome into a state-of-the-art convention center and exhibition space known as "New Dome Experience.”

The Astrodome has sat vacant for five years and has not housed a sports team since the Astros left for their new downtown park after the 1999 season.