Dec 19, 4:18 PM EST

Group backs plan to turn Astrodome into large park



HOUSTON (AP) -- An idea to turn the iconic but shuttered Houston Astrodome into a massive indoor park and green space area holds great promise, a nonprofit research group focused on land use said Friday.

At a meeting within sign of the structure, Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute presented a report which detailed in broad strokes a plan to create a civic space. The proposal could include gardens, areas for festivals, running and biking trails and exhibition space. Pavilions and other green spaces around the Astrodome could also be created to link it with surrounding facilities, including the NFL Houston Texans' stadium.

The future of the structure has been in limbo since voters in 2013 didn't authorize $217 million in bonds to turn it into a multipurpose special events center. While the Astrodome is not in any immediate danger of being demolished, local officials have continued to struggle to find an alternative use. Over the years, some proposals - including a water park and a sports memorabilia museum - have not gained much traction, while others proposals have sought to demolish the stadium, which had become an eyesore in recent years but is now being cleaned up.

Tom Murphy, one of the members on the institute's panel that visited Houston this week, urged residents to support the effort to save the Astrodome, but also criticized the lack of action over the years.

"Are you satisfied with this? ... You ought to be embarrassed by it quite frankly," said Murphy, who is a former mayor of Pittsburgh. "You are at an intersection of choices. You can act or you can procrastinate."

Opened in 1965, the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World once housed MLB's Astros and the NFL's former Oilers, but hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett - who first proposed the idea earlier this year - said the proposition has "almost a 100 percent chance of succeeding," but added it wasn't immediately known whether officials would have to ask voters to help fund it. The institute's report, requested by local officials, did not offer a price tag.

The land institute said bringing the proposal to life would take a coalition from the private and public sectors as well as funding from a variety of sources, including local hotel tax revenues, historic tax credits and philanthropy.

The world's first multipurpose domed stadium is also under consideration for a "state antiquities landmark" designation from the Texas Historical Commission that would make it more difficult to tear it down.

The stadium's most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The National Park Service has added the Astrodome to its National Register of Historic Places.

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