Saving the Astrodome: From Perfectly Fine to Nearly Demolished, the History of the Dome's Demise and the Rise of New Stadiums in Houston
As the referendum on the Astrodome gets closer, I thought it might be worth taking a look back at the last 20 years of stadium history in Houston. Thought 20 years isn't a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, a lot has happened. Would you believe that, at one point, there was a better-than-average chance Houston could have lost all three of its professional sports franchises to other cities? True story.
A rendering of the new Astrodome.
In fact, the Oilers, who packed up and moved to Tennessee in the mid '90s could have led a mass exodus if not for the passage of a couple of referendums not dissimilar to the one on the ballot this November. Today, we have four major sporting venues all built since 2000. That almost didn't happen.
A little history: Oilers owner Bud Adams wanted a new stadium in the early '90s. Fresh off a renovation of the Astrodome, he decided he needed a new stadium with all the bells and whistles (i.e. luxury suites) to compete with other NFL franchises. At that time, professional sports was just entering what would be come a decade-plus-long stadium rebuilding renaissance. Adams suggested a retractible-roof facility just across 59 from downtown.
The project was laughingly labeled the "Bud Dome" by local officials. Adams asked the Astros to join them but Drayton McLane balked saying the Astrodome was perfectly fine for their purposes and not wanting to be stuck under a lease with the Oilers. When Adams suggested Alexander and the Rockets might join the Oilers in the cavernous new building -- keep in mind, the Spurs were beginning play in the Alamodome and some thought this might be the future of basketball arenas -- Alexander wisely passed.
Soon after, Adams signed an agreement with leaders in Tennessee, something no one believed could or would happen, and off the Oilers left with only a tiny, sad little rally at City Hall as a reminder.
Within just a few years, McLane began hinting that the Astros might consider relocation to Northern Virginia if the city didn't build a new facility for the team. Of course, McLane had just said the Astros planned to remain in the Dome, but things change. His flirtations with Northern Virginia, unlike Adams and Nashville, were taken seriously and the city went to work on a ballot measure that would create a tax increment zone for funding a new ballpark and other future stadiums. It would require a law be passed by the state legislature to allow for the collection of hotel occupancy and car rental taxes to pay for these buildings.