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Should the Astrodome Become a Lush Indoor Park with Zip-Lines and Bike Trails?

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When voters rejected a $217M proposal to turn Houston's Astrodome--the world's first domed sports stadium—into a multi-purpose convention center in fall 2013, it looked like the crumbling icon was a goner. After all, by that December, a few exterior ramps of the arena were already reduced to rubbles. But now, over a year later and just ahead of the Astrodome's 50th birthday, the so-called "Eighth Wonder of the World" is, believe it or not, still standing—and better yet, it might even have promising new future. As unpacked in a recent piece over on CityLab, a newly released report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) recommends that the Astrodome should not only be preserved, but also transformed into a multi-use indoor park.

Opened in 1965, the monstrous round structure with a UFO-like roofline captured the optimism of the Space Age. It was also the first to use artificial turf, henceforth rebranded as AstroTurf. The stadium, which hosted countless baseball and football games, as well as big names like Elvis, Evel Knievel, and Muhammad Ali, fell into disuse after 2008, in light of multiple building code violations.

The new report from the ULI, composed after week-long study by a panel of experts from the fields of architecture, urban planning, land use, and more, comes about a year after the Astrodome was added to the National Register of Historic Places, a gesture that doesn't guarantee protection but adds tax incentives for preserving the property.

Here's what it suggests—for interior programming, the ULI envisions a ground-level open-space that could host anything from an adventure park and indoor track to zip lines and mountain-biking trails—plus, if taking an agricultural approach, the space could become a lush vegetated expanse that supports, say, the University of Houston's aquaponics research lab or a center for sustainable farming.

Various floors of the stadium could also be used to house community festivals, farmers markets, movie nights, charity events, as well as auxiliary events for other tenants of the larger site, primarily the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which both currently use the nearby NRG Stadium. As for the outdoor space, ULI recommends creating a pedestrian corridor "lined with live oak trees and edged by pavilions that provide shade and rain protection." These promenade would surround a central lawn that would be equipped with informal field sports and "lined with gently rolling edges to allow seating and children's play."

So essentially, this report thinks the Astrodome could be anything and everything, as long as it becomes something that maintains the architectural soul of the structure and creates a dynamic "bold, new civic space." As CityLab writer Kriston Capps explains, this grand vision for a renewed Astrodome rests on the tough challenge of funding it, a daunting task given that, at a projected $242M, ULI's proposal costs a whole $25M more than the previously rejected plan. In any case, with the NRG stadium next door slated to host the Super Bowl LI, February 2017 seems like an unspoken deadline of sorts for the county to decide just what should happen to the Astrodome. Stay tuned.

· The Best Plan Yet to Save Houston's Astrodome [CityLab]
· When Baseball Went Space-Age: The Houston Astrodome in Archival Photos [Curbed National]
· All Astrodome coverage [Curbed National]