Since being closed in 2008, the Astrodome has been the subject of frequent debate regarding its future. Proposals have included demolition, turning the facility into an indoor park, and creating a multi-use facility. While these proposals vary significantly, they all have one thing in common: taxpayers will get to foot the bill.
No matter what is ultimately decided, a lot of Houstonians won’t be happy, yet they will be forced to pay for that decision. A much fairer solution is to sell the Astrodome to private developers. The county would get a windfall, and taxpayers would be off the hook for paying for another boondoggle. As an example, consider the building formerly known as The Summit. After the Rockets moved downtown to the Toyota Center, Lakewood Church bought The Summit.
If re-purposing the Dome is economically viable, private developers are much more likely that county bureaucrats to find such a purpose. And if they can’t, it’s their money on the line, not taxpayers.
Indeed, the county should get out of the stadium business entirely. Texans owner Bob McNair is reportedly calling for “major upgrades” to the county owned NRG Stadium. Undoubtedly, the county will ultimately cave and taxpayers will get to pay for another lavish playground.
Many argue that the county or city needs to pay for stadiums in order to attract or retain professional sports teams. Other municipalities do it, so we need to follow suit if we want to compete. In other words, if others are jumping off a bridge…
If the owners of professional sports teams want modern stadiums, let them build those facilities. Without exception, the owners of those teams have the resources and contacts to secure the necessary financing. And if they can’t, then that is a clue that such ventures may not be financially viable.
Lest you think that it can’t be done, consider the following examples of privately built stadiums:
- StubHub Stadium in Carson, California
- Staples Center in Los Angeles
- Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio
Until the early 1950s, most sports stadiums were built with private money. That began to change in 1953, when Milwaukee lured the Boston Braves to the city with a stadium built with taxpayer money. Since that time, teams have increasingly demanded that taxpayer pay for stadiums. And politicians have generally been happy to do so.
Houston has long been different from other cities. Selling the Astrodome would be one step in continuing that trend. Refusing to upgrade NRG would be the next.