The Houston Astrodome.
Ed Schipul/Flickr Creative Commons license The Houston Astrodome.

On March 23, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) released its recommendations for Houston’s NRG Astrodome, nicknamed “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” with the conclusion that the iconic sports stadium be repurposed as a multi-use park and civic space.

A ULI advisory panel comprised of 10 developers, urban planners, landscape architects, and preservationists evaluated potential reuse possibilities for the Astrodome, the former home of the Houston Oilers and Astros. The panel issued "The Astrodome, Harris County Texas: A Vision for a Repurposed Icon," a comprehensive report expanding on its proposal announced to the public last December.

The report detailed a plan to turn the stadium—which hasn't hosted any athletic team since 1999, or held any event since 2009—into a multi-use facility with an interior park that could be used for a variety of activities, such as community festivals, farmers markets, movie nights, charity events, and private events, as well as outdoor civic spaces with new landscape features. The panel also advised adding 1,500 to 2,000 parking spaces in the lower levels of the Astrodome. 

The ULI panel estimates that construction costs for its vision could total nearly $243 million: about $21 million set aside to create outdoor parking and the landscape, $127 million for development of retail space, and $95 million to construct the lower garage. The report concludes that federal, state, county, and city funds could foot the bill, with additional contributions provided by tax increment reinvestment zones, tax credits, and philanthropy.

The Houston Astrodome.
JWSherman/Flickr Creative Commons license The Houston Astrodome.

“The panel’s vision for the future of the Astrodome rests on a single idea—the panel concluded that the Astrodome can and should live on,” says the report, which comes weeks before the stadium’s 50th anniversary.

The panel’s recommended design principles include: respecting the Astrodome by giving it space and stature within the park; celebrating the four primary architectural assets of the stadium—large-scale singular space, domed roof with daylight, mesh wrap, and access to the experience on the upper tiers; making it energy efficient, and enlivening it throughout the day and year with events, flexible spaces, and lighting at night.

In December 2013—the year that the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) named the Astrodome as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places—Houston voters rejected a $217 million plan to finance the Astrodome’s redevelopment, leaving the stadium in jeopardy of demolition. That plan sought to convert the Astrodome into a multi-purpose event space, with renderings for "The New Dome Experience" produced by local firm Kirksey Architecture. County officials held off on the idea of demolition and have been seeking alternative options. According to NextCity, county officials have not yet clarified whether voters will be asked to support the new plans for redevelopment.

ULI’s timeline in the report suggests work on the Astrodome can theoretically begin this year with fundraising and planning, then a 2017–2018 groundbreaking and construction period, and finally completion by 2025.