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Astrodome's fate to be voted on in November

Houston's 'Eighth Wonder of the World' would become convention center if approved

Voters will have the final say on the fate of the Houston Astrodome.

The Astrodome, opened in 1965 as the world's first multipurpose domed sports stadium, will have a chance for a new life this fall. Harris County commissioners approved a measure Tuesday for the Nov. 5 ballot that will ask voters to authorize up to $217 million in bonds to renovate the Astrodome.

If approved, the ballot measure would turn the Astrodome into a giant convention center and exhibition space. The commissioners said Tuesday that voters must understand that approving the measure would lead to a small increase in property tax.

That tax increase amounts to a half-cent per $100 of assessed value, which the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would see the tax bill increase by about $8 per year. County Judge Ed Emmett said Tuesday that the measure allows the public to decide the building's future.

"In my six years as county judge, it comes up in almost every speech, 'What are you going to do with the Astrodome?' It will be a fascinating process to watch," Emmett told The Associated Press.

Tax breaks, naming rights and other incentives could eventually lower the project's cost, and officials say that the final figure on the ballot is expected to be lower than $217 million.

The renovation plan, developed by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., is dubbed "The New Dome Experience" and, if approved, is expected to take up to two years to complete. The proposal calls for removing all of the stadium's seats and raising the floor to street level in an effort to clear more exhibition space.

The proposal says that 350,000 square feet of exhibition space can be expected. Other changes include the creation of 400,000 square feet of plaza and greenery outside of the building.

Officials have been considering the Astrodome's future since 2009, when it was deemed unfit for occupancy and shuttered. Taxpayers pay around $3 million per year for basic maintenance on the stadium, and 19 private-sector renovation plans were submitted to repurpose the facility.

One of those plans would have turned the Astrodome into a tourist area with retail shops and restaurants, and another planned to strip the structure to its steel frame and create a public park.

The Astros played there from 1965-99, after which they moved into a new stadium now named Minute Maid Park. The Houston Oilers, a former National Football League franchise, called the Astrodome home from 1968-97.

Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it opened, the Astrodome was the site the "Game of the Century" between the University of Houston and UCLA in 1968 that drew a crowd of 52,963, a record for the largest attendance ever at a basketball game that stood until 2003.

The venue also was the host to the city's rodeo until 2003, and it was the home of an NCAA bowl game, the Bluebonnet Bowl, from 1968-84 and again in 1987. The Astrodome also served as a shelter for Louisiana natives affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Hall of Fame legend Mickey Mantle recorded the first hit and hit the first home run in the Astrodome, during an exhibition game between the Astros and New York Yankees in April 1965.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for
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