JUAN A. LOZANO
HOUSTON (AP) -- Memories will likely soon be all that's left of the Houston Astrodome, the world's first multipurpose domed stadium.
Voters on Tuesday did not approve a referendum that would have authorized up to $217 million in bonds to turn the stadium that once hosted both professional baseball and football games into a giant convention and event center and exhibition space.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said while a final decision on what now happens to the Astrodome will be up to the Commissioners Court, the group of local officials who manage the county, the stadium's future was pretty much sealed with the referendum's failure. Emmett, who is a member of the Court, said there are no other plans to revamp the stadium.
"If we can't spend tax dollars to repurpose the dome and there are no private dollars to repurpose the dome, then the only thing at that point is we can't leave it sitting there. So it would have to come down. But that is a decision to be made by Commissioners Court," he said.
Emmett said a final decision on the Astrodome would have to be made quickly but didn't say exactly when that would happen.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, 53 percent had voted against the amendment.
Throughout an election watch party Tuesday evening in an exhibition hall across from the Astrodome, a crowd of about 60 to 70 referendum supporters was mostly quiet as results started coming in and it became clear the referendum was not going to be approved.
Afterward, some supporters vowed they would continue to fight for the Astrodome.
"This is not the end. This dome is not going anywhere," Regina Pappas Seale said as she pointed to the Astrodome, which could be seen through a series of windows. Later, Seale led the crowd in a chant of, "Is this the end? No, this is not the end."
But Beth Wiedower, senior field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one of the groups that promoted passage of the referendum, said this was the end of the Astrodome.
"We're discouraged and saddened this icon is lost," she said.
The referendum had called for creating 350,000 square feet of exhibition space by removing the interior seats and raising the floor to street level. Other changes included creating 400,000 square feet of plaza and green space on the outside of the structure as part of the project, dubbed "The New Dome Experience."
A coalition of local and national preservation groups as well as a political action committee had banded together to try to convince voters the so-called "Eighth Wonder of the World," one of Houston's signature structures, should be reborn and not razed.
The pro-Astrodome groups took to Facebook and Twitter and spoke at community meetings. In the two weeks leading up to the election, they also drove around the county a 26-foot-long truck dubbed the "Dome Mobile," where people wrote their favorite Astrodome memories and preservation messages on a large interior wall.
While there wasn't an organized effort against the referendum, some opponents had said the money to refurbish the Astrodome could be better spent on other projects.
"I think it would be a big waste of money. And the trouble is, it's hard to do, because I love the history of it," Don Gray, 84, a Houston resident who voted against the referendum, said earlier Tuesday.
Studies in recent years have estimated the cost of demolishing the Astrodome to be between $29 million and $78 million.
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was home to MLB's Houston Astros and the NFL's Houston Oilers. It was spacious enough to fit an 18-story building under its 208-foot high roof. The stadium was also home to the city's rodeo and hosted concerts and other events, including the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973.
But it hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009. While still structurally sound, the iconic stadium had fallen into disrepair. On Saturday, thousands of people bought stadium seats, pieces of AstroTurf and other items at a "yard sale" and auction of Astrodome memorabilia.
The stadium's most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk contributed to this story.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.