KTRK’s Ted Oberg takes closer look at Astrodome Boondoggle proposal

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We have been calling BS on the numbers put out by Astrodome Boondoggle proponents for years.

As we’ve watched free-spending Houston Mayor Annise Parker and formerly fiscally conservative County Judge Ed Emmett jump on the latest Astrodome Boondoggle/Property Tax Increase bandwagon, we’ve remained skeptical of the numbers being put out.

Thanks to a series of reports by KTRK-13’s Ted Oberg last week, we can say our skepticism has certainly been warranted.

Get Ready For World-Class Quidditch!

The guy stuck with promoting the latest Astrodome Boondoggle, Edgar Colon (chairman of Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation), has been spinning fantastic tales of how the redeveloped Astrodome is going to break even by attracting all sorts of events Houston apparently can’t attract right now. In one report, Oberg took a closer look at some of those events Colon has been touting:

“We’re trying to attract events we don’t have now,” Colon said.

[Astrodome Boondoggle promoters] sent us their list — five pages of what appears to be a brainstorming session.

They mention OTC, the NFL Superbowl Fan Experience and NCAA games side-by-side with conventions big and small. Hardware shows, pet shows and the Star Wars convention.

Bowling is mentioned five times.

And this, too: Quidditch World Championship. Seriously, the Harry Potter game. I don’t think the people behind a $217 million tax program expected anyone to read this list.

Organizers say they’ll start marketing the place once you approve it and use the 30-month construction window to seal deals.

“It will be self-sufficient,” Colon said.

The Astrodome Boondoggle proponents have been trying to pull a fast one on the public for years. And they may well succeed. World class cities should be able to attract Quidditch Championships, after all!

Dubious Assumptions Behind “Break-Even” Assertions

In another report, Oberg took a closer look at the assumptions behind Colon’s assertions, and found them problematic (to be charitable):

[Edgar] Colon told us the new dome will break even once it’s redone, but we just wanted to make sure.

“Do you have those projections?” we asked Colon last week.

“I’ll send it to you,” he said.

On Tuesday, six days after that interview, we finally got the projections. And it’s one page. They do show the new dome would break even, but look closer: The group hired experts who projected the new dome would bring in $1.7 million in annual revenue; but then the people behind the plan increased the projection, saying they can outperform the experts, bringing in $3.3 million.

That’s nearly twice what experts said they would bring in and to make that happen they said they’d have to get money from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in rent. But the rodeo’s not going to pay rent.

“We pay no rent on the Astrodome,” RodeoHouston CEO Leroy Shafer said.

And they never have.

The rodeo signed a lease in 1964 that allows them the use of the Astrodome rent-free, and signed the same deal in 2001.

In other words, Edgar Colon is stretching the truth (to be charitable) with the assertions about the Astrodome Boondoggle breaking even, and by extension, so too are other Astrodome Boondoggle Tax Increase proponents like Mayor Annise Parker (who has some experience in this area, previously lying to Houstonians about the impact of the Rain Tax) and County Judge Ed Emmett.

Is the quarter-billion Astrodome Boondoggle proposal just a down payment?

In another report, Oberg notes that the $217 million bond proposal being floated to voters may just be a down payment:

Certainly the rodeo and Offshore Technology Conference would use [the new facility]. But the wish list contemplates swimming events and field hockey and lacrosse, high school football and graduations. They require just 10,000 to 15,000 seats at the most. The dome once sat nearly 50,000.

“While the current proposal may not be the highest and best use of the dome forever, it is something that will allow us to preserve it and use it and we’ll see what it becomes in the future,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “It is still possible that the right private sector offer would come along, and I am absolutely convinced that Harris County would consider it.”

Organizers admit this plan doesn’t make money for the county. The dome experience is projected to barely break even. And it appears one of the motivations may simply be to hold to Houston history.

“There could be a time in the future when someone comes up with an even better idea of what we’re going to use it for and we’ve preserved it,” Emmett said.

Earlier proposals from the Astrodome Boondoggle proponents approached a cool billion dollars (yes, BILLION). The trough feeders aren’t about to let dreams like that die so easily! They just hope you aren’t paying close attention (or perhaps that you voted early, before Ted Oberg’s reports came out).

One reason we have urged action on the Astrodome for many years is that it is a liability that has cost taxpayers millions while politicians have dithered and trough feeders have done their thing. Oberg’s reporting makes it clear that the trough feeders and other boondoggle proponents STILL can’t sell a redeveloped Astrodome as anything but a money-loser for taxpayers. A vote no on the Astrodome Boondoggle (with subsequent demolition) remains the best deal for taxpayers.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX