Fire inside Houston Astrodome renews debate over its future



Posted on February 19, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Updated Saturday, Feb 19 at 11:29 AM

HOUSTON — A fire in an underground electrical vault at the Houston Astrodome is not expected to impact the upcoming Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, organizers said.

Firefighters were called to the landmark venue Friday shortly after 11:15 a.m. after someone reported smoke coming from inside the Astros and Oilers' former home.

The fire renewed the debate over the  future of the world's first domed sports arena, which opened in 1965.

"It costs a lot of money to convert it to something else," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

Harris County taxpayers pay nearly $500,000 every year for the upkeep of the stadium that once was home to the Astros baseball team and the Oilers football team.

In 2008, the Houston Fire Department wrote nine citations for fire code violations and effectively closed the Astrodome to the public. Repairs that year were estimated at nearly $250,000.

Last year, a KHOU-KUHF Houston Public Radio poll indicated the vast majority of Houston residents did not want the Astrodome torn down.

"If the building is useful [and] can generate some profit for the county, perhaps they should maintain it," said Houston resident James Latham.

David Greene, who also lives in Houston, agreed.

"It’s a monument," he said. "It should either be improved on or developed into something."

Plenty of ideas have surfaced throughout the years over what to do with what many still call the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

A plan to build a luxury hotel fell through, but plans to construct a film studio were still in discussion.

"[The fire] is one more exclamation point on, ‘We have to decide what we’re going to do with the Astrodome,’" Emmett said.