After years of debate, Houstonians will know the fate of their world-famous Astrodome by the end of the night.
Harris County residents are voting today on whether or not to raise $217 million in bonds to turn the "Eighth Wonder of the World" into a convention and events center. If voters choose not to, it'll likely be demolished in a matter of months and replaced with surface parking. That would free the county of an annual $2 - 3 million in maintenance fees for the idle facility.
The domed stadium was the first of its kind upon completion in 1965, introducing indoor professional football and baseball to the world. Its space-era ambitions and aesthetic helped usher in a wave of new, multi-sport domes around the country. This phase eventually faded and single-use facilities focused on fan amenities and architectural quirks came back into style. By the 1990s, its NFL tenant, unsatisfied with the Astrodome, left for Nashville. Its baseball team moved into a new stadium downtown.
After losing the Oilers and Astros, the Astrodome was used sparsely, most notably as a place of refuge for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It has not hosted an event since 2009.
Polls suggest that many voters do want the Astrodome to stick around, though a September poll conducted by Rice University showed 20 percent of voters were undecided. The reuse plan in today's referendum calls for four new entrances, the removal of all the interior seating, raising the floor to street level, and creating 400,000 square feet of public space along the outside. It would take an estimated two-and-a-half years to complete.
Fans helped workers get a head start, showing up in droves over the weekend at a yard sale to bid on a wide range of Astrodome remains. They came home with memorabilia ranging from squares of Astroturf at $20 a piece, to ticket turnstiles for $4,100.
Houston Astros third baseman Ken Caminiti salutes the crowd after the Astros clinched the National League Central Division title with a 9-4 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Houston October 3. It was the team's last regular season game at the Astrodome. (Reuters)