The Houston Astrodome was home to countless iconic sports moments of the NFL’s Oilers and MLB’s Astros. Inveiled as the future of stadiums, the cutting-edge design masterpiece came complete with a covered roof to block the oppressive Texas sun. Serving as the new standard for city construction projects, the Houston Astrodome inspired everything from concert halls to convention centers.
Yet today it stands empty. It’s been that way for over a decade. Now, the Houston Astrodome is 20 years removed from the last Astros game there. How did a beloved architectural landmark become a disused liability? And will it ever be restored to its former glory?
The glory days of the Houston Astrodome
After the Astrodome opened in 1965, journalists often called it “the Eighth Wonder of the World.” The massive concrete circle design with a previously unseen sun-blocking dome was meant to be a multi-use marvel. Everything from concerts to conventions could be held there.
But, of course, the main show was all about sports. The city of Houston approved the Houston Astrodome with the intent of landing an MLB franchise — and it worked, according to Ballparks of Baseball. Not long after, the NFL’s Oilers also got on board. Almost too many incredible moments in sports history occurred over the ensuing decades to count.
Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan threw his first no-hitter there on September 26, 1981. The great Willie Mays hit his 500th career home run, just the fifth major leaguer to do so, reports The Undefeated. It wasn’t all about baseball, however.
The legendary “Battle of the Sexes” between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, as the Smithsonian details, occurred in the ‘Dome. And “the Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, handed Cleveland Williams an infamously brutal knockout in 1966, analyzed here by Boxing Over Broadway.
How the Astrodome ended up abandoned
With so much history, and famously unflappable construction, how did the Astrodome end up abandoned? In the context of beloved ancient ballparks like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, is there really no love for Houston’s once-gleaming gem? It mostly boils down to two issues. Both are related to wringing out as much profit as possible out of live spectacles.
First, there’s the iconic dome. Modern stadiums often eschew the permanent dome for retractable roof designs. According to MLB.com, the newer Minute Maid Park usually remains closed but provides a rare opportunity for open-air baseball if weather conditions are right. This has a major impact on ticket sales on certain days. Permanent domes generally provide the same experience regardless of the weather.
The other problem comes down to seating. In 1965, the Astrodome revolutionized attendance, but modern design innovations have since surpassed it. The old “donut” design concept was a big improvement at the time, to be sure.
Today, seats are shoved into every space possible, and additional modular seating can be added depending on the event. A concept, like Yankee Stadium from 2009, is so efficient with seating that it generates much bigger profit than older concepts, reports Ballparks.com.
Can the Astrodome be saved?
After the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park, the Houston Astrodome hosted conventions and concerts for nearly a decade. After 2009, code violations caused it to close, reports Insider. It wasn’t entirely abandoned, as the city has long promised to find a use for the massive indoor arena. It still eats up $100,000 in maintenance costs each year.
The building’s bones are still as good as ever, so legitimate attempts at revitalizing the space are in consideration. According to Click 2 Houston, the latest attempt was in 2018. The city approved a $215 million plan to design and execute renovations.
Sadly, Houston’s ongoing issues with flooding during hurricane season meant the project got put on hold so the funds could be applied to more pressing public safety issues.