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Will the Astrodome Survive Today's Referendum?

After years of debate, Houstonians will know the fate of their world-famous Astrodome by the end of the night.

Harris County residents are voting today on whether or not to raise $217 million in bonds to turn the "Eighth Wonder of the World" into a convention and events center. If voters choose not to, it'll likely be demolished in a matter of months and replaced with surface parking. That would free the county of an annual $2 - 3 million in maintenance fees for the idle facility. 

The domed stadium was the first of its kind upon completion in 1965, introducing indoor professional football and baseball to the world. Its space-era ambitions and aesthetic helped usher in a wave of new, multi-sport domes around the country. This phase eventually faded and single-use facilities focused on fan amenities and architectural quirks came back into style. By the 1990s, its NFL tenant, unsatisfied with the Astrodome, left for Nashville. Its baseball team moved into a new stadium downtown.

After losing the Oilers and Astros, the Astrodome was used sparsely, most notably as a place of refuge for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It has not hosted an event since 2009.

Polls suggest that many voters do want the Astrodome to stick around, though a September poll conducted by Rice University showed 20 percent of voters were undecided. The reuse plan in today's referendum calls for four new entrances, the removal of all the interior seating, raising the floor to street level, and creating 400,000 square feet of public space along the outside. It would take an estimated two-and-a-half years to complete.

Fans helped workers get a head start, showing up in droves over the weekend at a yard sale to bid on a wide range of Astrodome remains. They came home with memorabilia ranging from squares of Astroturf at $20 a piece, to ticket turnstiles for $4,100. 

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote today that "there may be no piece of architecture more quintessentially American than the Astrodome," calling the building "a singular monument to the American confidence and Texas swagger of the 1960s."

An aerial photograph of the Astrodome taken in December 1968. (AP)

In this April 1965 photo, the Houston Astrodome is seen through a fish-eye lens. The Houston Astros played their first game in the Astrodome on April 9, 1965. (AP)

The Astros host the New York Yankees at the Astrodome in this April 10, 1965 photo. (AP)

World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali waves a Houston Astrodome Stadium program on July 18, 1965 in Houston, Texas, as he was recognized via the million dollar scoreboard at Houston's domed stadium. He stayed for only about two innings of the game between the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. (AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky)

Frank Howard, Washington Senators outfielder, checks the flight of the ball against the glass top of the Astrodome during American League practice for the All Star game. A number of the American League players were preparing to play their first indoor baseball game. (AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky)

This low angle photo was taken during the NCAA basketball championship, won by UCLA 68-62. (AP)

Olga Korbut, member of the Russian women's gymnastics team, is shown during her work-out on the uneven parallel bars with the roof of the Dome in background at the Houston Astrodome, Texas, March 9, 1973. (AP)

The Apollo 11 astronauts Edwin E. Aldrin; Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins are silhouetted by spotlights as they stand on the stage at the Astrodome on August 16, 1969 waiting to be presented medals by the city. Standing at right is Frank Sinatra who was master of ceremonies. (AP)

Artificial turf being installed at the Astrodome in Houston. Once regarded as magic carpets that would eliminate bad hops and minimize rainouts, artificial surfaces have long since gone out of style. (AP)

Nearly half the seats were empty in Houston's Astrodome as the Houston Oilers faced the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Nov. 12, 1995. Oilers owner Bud Adams cited lack of fan interest as one reason for moving the team to Nashville. (AP Photo/Michael Stravato)

Houston Oilers fan Wade Rothrock, 15, sits above a farewell sign as he waits for the start of an Oilers game in the Astrodome, Sunday, Dec. 17, 1995. The team relocated after the following season. (AP Photo/Donna Bagby)

An unidentified Astrodome employee vacuums the outfield at the Astrodome on March 31, 1996 in preparation for the Houston Astro's opening day game against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday.(AP/Michael Stravato)

Houston Astros third baseman Ken Caminiti salutes the crowd after the Astros clinched the National League Central Division title with a 9-4 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Houston October 3. It was the team's last regular season game at the Astrodome. (Reuters)

Image courtesy Library of Congress

The drive motor used for the Astrodome's removable seats. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Volunteer Sheereen Begum, a Suni Muslim from Atlanta, Georgia, looks out at the floor of the Astrodome where refugees of hurricane Katrina camped. Sept. 12, 2005. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

 

Siblings Darryl Johnson, 11, left, Jeremiah Moore, 4, and Alfred Johnson 13, from New Orleans, sit on their cots on the floor of the Astrodome, while their mother looks into school options. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Marshall Tickles, 2, right, reaches out trying to get a smile from his cousin Savannah Gould, 4, on the floor of the Astrodome in Houston, Texas Monday, Sept. 12, 2005. Both of the children's families fled New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

People line up to buy stadium seats at a sale and auction of the Astrodome furniture, appliances, Astroturf and staff uniforms at the Reliant Center in Houston, Nov. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Space helmets worn by the grounds crew in the early years of the Houston Astrodome are lined up in front of drawings of former Houston Astros players on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at the Reliant Center in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Two women have their picture taken beside the truck known as the "Dome Mobile" Monday, Oct. 21, 2013,. A coalition of local and national preservation groups is using the truck to promote a ballot measure to save the iconic but now shuttered structure and turn it into a convention facility. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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