Friday, August 16, 2013

The Dome is going to come down

As bad as the city's managers are, they look like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos compared to the county's.

I realize now what I should have realized back then: Ed Emmett and the Harris County commissioners don't want to save repurpose the Astrodome, they just want to avoid taking the blame for destroying it.

The Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously voted to place a bond election for up to $217 million to convert the iconic stadium into a massive, street-level convention hall and exhibit space, saying residents should take part in deciding the historic structure's fate.

Should voters reject the bonds, County Judge Ed Emmett and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman said Tuesday they see no other alternative than to demolish the former "Eighth Wonder of the World," which has sat vacant since city inspectors declared it unfit for occupancy in 2009. The Reliant Astrodome has not housed a professional sports team since the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park in 2000.

"If it does not pass in November, then that should be the death knell for the Dome," Morman said.

This has been their intention all along, and I just refused to see it. The scales have fallen from my eyes.

While the vote to put the measure on the ballot was unanimous, court members' personal support for the project is not.

Only Emmett and Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee said they definitely will cast a vote in favor of the bond referendum. Both, however, said they have no plans to launch - or, in Emmett's case, participate in - campaigns to get the measure passed.

"There needs to be some plans made to do it, if it's going to be a success," Lee, who wants to save the Dome, said of a campaign. "The judge is our leadership, so we'll just see what occurs from there."

The Dome suffered benign neglect for decades at the hands of most of these characters already, but this new tack is nothing but passive aggressive demolition in advance of the actual implosion. It is amazing to me that the only one making some sense here is Steve Radack.

If the bond fails in November, Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said it "would make no sense to me at all" to spend millions of dollars demolishing the structure.

"There's another day to have another election," he said. "Why are you going to spend $8 million and then tear it down?"

The vote to call the bond election was made with one condition championed by Radack: That the ballot language explicitly say that the project would require an increase to the county property tax rate, which has not been raised in 17 years.

Increasing the tax rate by as much as half a cent in 2015, if the bonds are approved, is the recommendation of county budget chief Bill Jackson, who still is looking at ways to offset some of the $217 million price tag.

A half-cent hike would mean an $8 increase to the annual tax bill for a $200,000 home with a 20 percent homestead exemption, Jackson told court members Tuesday.

It will cost 8 bucks a year to save an icon. Eight bucks -- barely one day's lunch money -- to the TeaBaggers who live in the far flung exurbs of the city. How do YOU think they will vote?

Lastly, from Charles...

The big question at this point is who lines up to oppose this. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, whose renovation plan is what the Court approved for the ballot, will take the lead in communicating the referendum and the reasons to vote for it to the public. I have no idea how much money they’ll have to mount a real campaign, however. It’s certainly possible that some deep-pocketed types could show up to fund a campaign in favor of this, or in opposition to it. It’s also possible that there will be little more than earned media and some online presence to inform the voters.

... and the HCSCC's chairman, Edgar Colón.

Colón said he plans to actively campaign for the referendum, describing it as the sports corporation's "homework" to host town hall meetings and give presentations on the project it has proposed. "We're going to now go into the community and we're going to educate the voters as to the importance of this project, its importance to the region and why they should support this proposition..."

Go into the community with what? PowerPoint presentations? Brochures? Thirty-minute talks at Democratic club meetings?

Let's cut to the chase: what's your budget for the marketing campaign? Most efforts of this type include television, radio, and direct mail advertising. That would put you up to a million bucks right out of the gate, maybe a couple. You're also down to about 75 days remaining to execute your strategy.

Call me skeptimistic, but I don't foresee success. Hell, I don't even see a good faith effort. Can you at least pull out an "old college try"?

Say so long to the Astrodome, everybody. The Party of No wins again because nobody -- and I mean nobody in this case -- has the balls to stand up to them.

Update: OK, there's this...

Reliant Park management officials pitched their plan to turn the Astrodome into a massive convention and exhibition venue to a sympathetic crowd on Thursday: the hospitality industry, mostly hotel owners and managers who are understandably keen on seeing Houston attract more large events that lure out-of-towners who need a place to stay.


During the Q&A, Colón also revealed that plans are in the works to form a political action committee that will raise money to promote the Dome referendum. ...

“There is going to be a more organized political campaign, a political action committee, to which I’m sure you all of you can donate funds,” Colón said, eliciting some hearty laughter.

Still not encouraged.


Gadfly said...

Didn't Ed live out his shelf life a decade or so ago? I mean, how long's he been holding down that seat, and without ever considering running for anything else?

PDiddie said...

Not that long, relatively.

When Bob Eckels wanted to go back to making a million bucks a year as a lobbyist in 2007, he picked Emmett to replace him. Really; that's how it works around here.

County commissioners serve for life (except in severe and obvious cases of corruption, like Jerry Eversole).

Gadfly said...

Up in Dallas, at least they have actual contests! And I probably fused Eckels and Emmett; I vaguely remember that handoff.