John Buntin is a GOVERNING staff writer. He covers health care, public safety and urban affairs.E-mail: email@example.com
When Memphis' new sports and entertainment center opens in 2004, the Pyramid of Memphis will join a parade of underused and unpaid-for sports stadiums. Among other arenas struggling to compete with newer, nearby facilities are Minneapolis' Target Center and the Miami Arena. Moreover, the price for early replacement is high: Minneapolis' $75 million debt for the Center won't be paid down until 2025; Miami-Dade County won't pay off what it owes on its old arena until 2020.
Some cities are looking outside the box for new tenants. Earlier this year, Houston's lease on the 17,000-seat Compaq Center, a stadium erected in 1975 for the Houston Rockets basketball team, expired. The Compaq Center soon attracted a new and very different tenant: Lakewood Church, one of the country's largest congregations, known to television audiences as "The Oasis of Love." Meanwhile, Harris County opened the doors last year on a new football stadium, Reliant Field, with the corporate suites and retractable roofs that are now in vogue. Now Houston is trying to come up with a plan for the granddaddy of today's super-stadiums, the aging Houston Astrodome, a structure once known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." This spring, a group of architects suggested a novel redevelopment plan for the Astrodome: Transform it into the world's first air-conditioned subdivision.
"We're serious about the proposal," says architect Larry Albert. "It's no more absurd than the Astrodome itself."
As for the Pyramid of Memphis, Shelby County commissioner John Willingham has suggested that the city invite the Chickasaw Indians, expelled in 1844, to return and transform the arena into a teepee- shaped casino.