Where does the new Houston Dynamo Stadium issue stand these days?
That’s what I asked myself recently as I prepared to take a look at the proposed site just east of downtown Houston.
Houston Mayor Bill White has spearheaded much of the negotiations between the city and AEG on a new stadium for the past four years, since the San Jose Earthquakes came to Houston and became the Houston Dynamo. Obviously, the reason the team left San Jose for Houston in 2005 was because of a desire to have their own stadium. Because of term limits though, the popular Mayor White is scheduled to leave office shortly, and he has turned his attention to running for Senator from Texas (or maybe running for Governor). Mayor White negotiated a framework of a deal with AEG and with Harris County, but time has simply run out for him to see the process through to it’s conclusion.
As the Houston Chronicle notes, it’s “a choice between a veteran City Hall insider trying to become Houston’s first openly gay leader (Parker) and a former civil rights activist hoping to become only the second African-American to run the nation’s fourth-largest city (Locke).”
The Houston Chronicle recently detailed the candidates positions on the proposed new Houston Dynamo Stadium in an excellent piece here.
“It will be another Seattle if we get a new stadium in Houston”, MLS Commissioner Don Garber noted last week.
Gene Locke is the candidate on record as most in favor of the new Dynamo Stadium plan. Annise Parker has a more nuanced position. According to local polling, the candidates are in a dead heat statistically. Dynamo GM Oliver Luck (who helped get Reliant Stadium approved and built) privately backs Locke.
To understand the local political climate for stadium funding it may help to know that in the past 10 years Houston voters have approved tax dollars for Reliant Stadium, Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park. The bills for all of these projects may be close to two billion dollars all told – not an insignificant amount. Incredibly, the now dormant Houston Astrodome is still being paid off because of renovations throughout the 1980s and 1990s, although the Houston Oilers and Astros have long since left. (The last “event” held at the Astrodome was hosting victims from Katrina). So although the Dynamo Stadium issue does not seem to be a top campaign issue, the average Houston voter is probably not generally of the mind to see another stadium built using public money.
In the current Dynamo stadium proposal, Dynamo owners AEG will pay for $60 million of the $80 million stadium cost. The proposal also includes federal tax credits for economic stimulus of the area. One sticking point at this time seems to be Harris County’s approval of $10 million dollars in tax approvals which could be reinvested into the community. As you can see, negotiations have been and will continue to be a fairly complicated process between the City, the County, and AEG – and with Mayor White leaving, everything has been put on hold.
Although the political opinion of most local voters is generally opposed to use of public funds for this project, the area we are talking about has real economic and social challenges that need to be addressed and are not going away. A new stadium would significantly begin to tackle many issues that have plagued the area for decades in this forgotten corner of downtown Houston.
On a recent overcast Houston afternoon, I drove to the two-block-by-three-block east of downtown plot of land to see it for myself.
Although only a few blocks from central downtown and near Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center, and the George R Brown Convention Center – the area is almost physically separated from downtown and these other locations by Highway 59. Although Highway 59 is elevated 30 feet off the ground and it is an easy walk from downtown to the proposed site underneath the overpass, the barrier seems as much psychological as anything else. To the west is the Houston we want you to see, to the east is the Houston we don’t want you to see.
Despite growing up in Houston, I’ve never been to these streets and had little idea what I might encounter. Even though it is very close to the center of downtown, the area has never been a destination location. While on one side of the highway construction cranes have shaped the futuristic Houston skyline of gleaming glass towers for many decades, on the other side (two blocks east) there has been almost no construction at all. It’s actually surprising to think an abandoned and desolate area like the proposed Dynamo Stadium site sits two blocks from the front door of the convention center – where tourists and businesses from around the world meet throughout the year and get their first taste of Houston.
At first glance, the area seemed essentially barren; just some rough grass and abandoned parking lots. Surrounding the site are a few plumbing businesses and abandoned warehouses.
There appeared to be few people around and it was unnaturally quiet for a downtown location. But soon after parking my car I saw this gentleman cross the street, presumably carrying his belongings in a trashbag. A older man in a wheelchair curiously rolled down the middle of the empty street as well and said “hello” to me. I later passed two homeless shelters.
Here’s a view of a patch of land and the various abandoned warehouses that surround the area. For a place that is this close to central downtown, the land is surprisingly “open”; with no buildings over four or five stories.
Close to this abandoned warehouse, the “Warehouse Live” concert venue recently opened, as did “Lucky’s Pub” – the first of only a few new businesses in the area in years. Will these new businesses survive without major re-investment in the area? Maybe, maybe not.
This was once a heavy industrial area, but clearly most the industry has been gone for years.
Lunch on an abandoned loading dock.
A new stadium would significantly change the area, creating a need for new restaurants, stores, and apartments and would bring new jobs to an economically sputtering urban landscape.
Only 2 blocks from the proposed stadium land is Lucky’s Pub – already the site of several recent Dynamo watching parties. It would be an easy walk to someday go from Lucky’s to the stadium – perhaps similar to the walk fans in Seattle make through Pioneer Square to Qwest Field.
A Gene Locke flyer given to Dynamo fans recently, above.
Overall, I have to hope the stadium deal is ultimately approved. Aside from seeing the Dynamo in their own stadium and improving their fiscal viability and increasing the overall atmosphere for soccer in this city, I found this east of downtown area to be a compelling location that deserves a shot at success. Close to downtown and currently on economic and social “life-support”, the area and the people here need help. The central location and proximity to highways and potential train routes gives the area high potential for success.
Houston has spent a great deal of energy and dollars recently cleaning up the bayou and luring businesses into previously “dead” areas of the city (see booming Midtown). The city has always been known as a very “pro-business” community. This stadium and community revitalization plan would assist bringing new life to the area by bridging together two areas of downtown and creating a new and “dynamic” community. Tax dollars could be reinvested into the community to create better services for the people of the neighborhood.
The Dynamo and MLS is an up-and-coming business that brings together many disparate groups in support of a very successful and community-focused organization, and a new stadium would be a “win-win” for everyone involved. The relatively low price tag ensures the stadium will be economical, perhaps similar to Rossetti Architect’s Toyota Park in Bridgeview. A potential partnership with Texas Southern University would help fill the facility on off-nights, assist with paying for the facility, and contribute to community outreach in the neighborhood. The plan offers a new vision for a long neglected part of the city.
Hopefully the stadium can be approved soon and one of these candidates can help turn a community around and give us a place where we can watch some great games.