Here’s some good news for Astrodome die-hards: the much-cited figure of $2.3 million that it takes to keep the building around is, how you say, a “guesstimate,” and it’s probably off by, oh, two million bucks or so. That’s the takeaway from a story the Houston Chronicle posted late last week in which several county officials revealed that the figure in the millions cited frequently by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation is not even close to the real number.
On Wednesday, Harris County Budget Chief Bill Jackson revealed that the amount the county actually is spending on the dome every year is far less than that. Utility costs? About $160,000 a year, he said.
And the cost of the county’s blanket insurance insurance policy, which covers all assets in NRG Park, likely wouldn’t change much if the dome were taken off of it, he said.
County Human Resources Director David Kester confirmed that, saying that “If we took the dome off of there, we would still buy $600 million worth of insurance, primarily because of the stadium.” (That’s NRG Stadium, not the dome).
Kester said the only other direct annual cost associated with dome is a $5,526-a-year flood insurance policy. That means the county is spending (and would save, if the dome were demolished) around $165,526 annually on the 1960s-era stadium.
Kester goes on to estimate that, if you look at the high-end of the portion of that $600 million insurance policy that goes toward the Astrodome, you’re still looking at no more than half a million a year. In other words, depending on who you ask, the Astrodome costs somewhere between $165K and $500K per year in insurance and utilities (primarily electricity for pumps that keep the field dry, since it’s below ground level).
The much-discussed $30 million in debt that is still owed on the facility—which would be owed whether or not the building were imploded—is similarly inaccurate, the Chronicle reported last year. In fact, it’s overestimated by a factor of five:
For several years, Harris County has said the amount of money it still owes on the Astrodome is about $30 million.
As the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. prepares to present a publicly funded redevelopment proposal for the 48-year-old stadium, however, county staff say that outstanding debt is actually less than $6 million.
So the building requires a mere fraction of the money it’s been estimated to cost to keep around per-year, and the outstanding debt on the building (which is mostly related to improvements made over the years, and not the original construction) is about twenty percent of what the county claimed it was. Still, if the Astrodome isn’t being used for anything, that’s $165,000 that could be spent elsewhere, right?
Not so fast, Houston real estate blog Swamplot explains. There’s an opportunity cost involved here, and the Astrodome probably actually saves money:
Retired from hosting sports events, impromptu celebrity ball-shagging parties, and even bar mitzvahs and cleared of its interior fittings, the Harris County Domed Stadium is currently employed as an 80,000-sq.-ft. storage facility for NRG Park. If the Dome weren’t around, that space would need to be paid for, and it would likely be far more expensive.
There aren’t a ton of Astrodome-sized storage facilities near NRG Park, which makes the Astrodome a relative bargain in terms of both cost and convenience. All of which suggests that, while converting it into an open-air tailgating park or, say, a truly gargantuan parking garage, might be nice ideas in theory—but perhaps the most practical use of the Eighth Wonder of the World is to keep it just like it is. It’s not the sexiest of options, but it sure seems to be a cost-effective one.