HOUSTON (AP) — Houston-area voters began deciding Tuesday whether to pump money into converting the shuttered Astrodome into a convention center or to allow the iconic but dilapidated stadium to proceed toward a likely date with the wrecking ball.
A referendum facing voters as polls opened Tuesday would authorize up to $217 million in bonds to transform the so-called "Eighth Wonder of the World" into a giant convention and event center and exhibition space. Officials in Harris County, which includes much of Houston, have said the stadium that was once home to professional baseball and football teams will likely be torn down if the ballot measure fails to pass.
Houston resident Wilton Schexnayder, 62, who has fond memories of seeing Astros and Oilers games as well as the rodeo inside the world's first multipurpose domed stadium, said he plans on voting in favor of the referendum.
"I think they should preserve it," he said. "It's just a part of the history of Houston."
A coalition of local and national preservation groups as well as a political action committee have banded together to get the referendum passed with the slogan, "Save the Astrodome." While there hasn't been an organized effort against the referendum, some opponents have said the money to refurbish the Astrodome could be better spent on other projects.
"I love the Astrodome. It's the memories of my childhood. But pouring good money after bad is a bad financial decision," said Michael Berry, a former Houston councilman.
The referendum calls for creating 350,000 square feet of exhibition space by removing all the interior seats and raising the floor to street level. Other changes include creating 400,000 square feet of plaza and green space on the outside of the structure as part of the project, dubbed "The New Dome Experience."
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was home to Major League Baseball's Astros and the National Football League's Houston Oilers. It was spacious enough to fit an 18-story building under its 208-foot-high roof.
But it hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009. While still structurally sound, the landmark stadium has fallen into disrepair. On Saturday, thousands of people bought stadium seats, pieces of AstroTurf and other items at a "yard sale" and auction of Astrodome memorabilia.
The stadium's most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.