New Senate bill puts hurdle in front of Harris County’s $105M plan to repurpose the Astrodome

New Senate bill puts hurdle in front of Harris County’s $105M plan to repurpose the AstrodomState Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, introduced a bill Feb. 15 that, if signed into law, would prevent Harris County from moving forward with a new Astrodome repurposing plan without voter approval.

Senate Bill 884, dubbed by Whitmire’s office as the Harris County Taxpayer Protection Act, would require Harris County to obtain voter approval for any improvement or redevelopment costing $10 million or more.

“Simply stated, it will require the county, before they go forward and spend over $100 million on refurbishing the Dome, that they go back and get voter approval,” Whitmire said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the legislation is an example of state government making it difficult for local government to do its job. 

Last fall, Commissioners Court approved a new $105 million Astrodome renovation project, which involves raising the facility’s floor 30 feet to ground level, providing 9 acres of open space for events and adding two levels of underground parking.

County officials said the proposal—for which the architectural engineering contract was awarded in mid-February—would not involve a property tax increase; instead, it would be funded evenly through the county’s general fund, hotel occupancy tax funds and parking enterprise funds.

Although Whitmire said his legislation would respect the taxpayers’ voices, Emmett said the existing plan for the Astrodome is far different from the 2013 bond proposal.

“The county was ready to undertake a comprehensive analysis of future operation and maintenance needs at NRG Park, but that cannot go forward until we have certainty about the role of the Astrodome,” Emmett said.

Emmett said demolishing the Astrodome would cost at least $30 million, which would in turn result in taxpayers bearing more of the costs of maintaining and upgrading NRG Stadium.

“I urge Senator Whitmire and his colleagues to focus on the real needs of Texas and allow government to do its job.”

Whitmire said the 2013 election still governs in his world.

“With the dire problems we have of homes flooding, too few deputies, roads are still in disrepair, no homeless shelter, a mental health system that needs attention, I have to represent my constituents and go back and say get voter approval,” Whitmire said. “Honor the previous election before you engage on such an endeavor.”

Additional reporting by Shawn Arrajj

By Marie Leonard
Marie came to Community Impact Newspaper in June 2011 after starting her career at a daily newspaper in East Texas. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Cy-Fair edition for nearly 5 years covering Harris County, Cy-Fair ISD, and local development and transportation news. She then moved to The Woodlands edition and covered local politics and development news in the master-planned community before being promoted to managing editor for the South Houston editions in July 2017.