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The Amazing Astrodome Project

Written by Rick Archer
September 2014


Forward

The Houston Astrodome was once described as the Eighth Wonder of the World.  That said, I am sorry to report that its glory days have been growing dimmer for some time now.  Houston's once great icon has sat idle for the past ten years.

There are constant calls to demolish the place. That seems like the most likely fate unless we can find something useful to do.

Here are my suggestions:

  Build the world's largest indoor Riverwalk on the ground floor
    complete with the world's tallest indoor waterfall.   Add a
    Magic Fountain and a Plaza next to the Waterfall Lagoon for
    large "block parties" such as a New Year's celebration. 

  Elevate restaurants above with a view down to the floor.

  Put a shopping mall on the middle level.

  Combine a European-style Hedge Row Maze with Japanese 
    Garden on the top level plus sidewalk cafes on the perimeter.

 

Although I was born in Pennsylvania, my family moved here in 1956.  Houston is where I grew up.  Although I may seem critical of my city at times, I have always felt privileged to live here in Houston.  I truly believe Houston has the potential to be a great city... but first we have some serious work to do.

I have watched the tale of the Astrodome with feelings of dread and horror.
I think it would a shame to waste this marvelous facility. 

I watched the place being built.  Back in 1964, I used to go to the baseball games at Colt .45 stadium and stare in awe across the parking lot as the Astrodome slowly rose out of the prairie.  I was at the first baseball game in the Dome, the exhibition game where Mickey Mantle hit the first home run.

I was at the famous "Game of the Century" in 1968 when Elvin Hayes and the University of Houston defeated the UCLA basketball juggernaut led by Lew Alcindor, later to be known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

On 2014 August 26, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett proposed turning the Astrodome into "the world's largest indoor park and recreation area", a concept he said would preserve a taxpayer-funded asset and honor the reason his predecessor built the iconic stadium nearly 50 years ago: "To provide a place for traditional outdoor activities in a climate-controlled space, a space like none other in the world."   (Chronicle Story)

Personally, I think that is a great idea.  That set me to thinking about what an Indoor Park might entail.  I suggest turning the Astrodome into a giant Riverwalk on the ground floor and indoor atrium with a "maze" on the top level. Please join me while I present my case.

Rick Archer

   


The San Antonio River Walk


I am a huge fan of the San Antonio Riverwalk.

In case you are unfamiliar with this phenomenal tourist attraction, the S.A. Riverwalk is recessed below street level.  This gives the Riverwalk an unusual 'hidden world' effect... in the morning, it feels like a peaceful paradise hidden in the center of downtown. 

Not only is the Riverwalk "free", due to the recessed nature of the area, the temperature is 5° lower than street level.  It is actually possible to be comfortable sitting outdoors in the evening. 

I love to get up early in the morning before the crowds hit and just walk and walk and walk.  The area is so pretty.  I feel like I am in a different world.  I can't help but admire the imagination that went into creating this magical place.

As the day continues, things get much busier.  And that is fun too.  It is a blast to have dinner and margaritas on the Riverwalk and watch the throngs of people as they pass by. 

Back in the 1920s, no one could have possibly dreamed of the value of saving a curious bend in the river.  Back in those days, the San Antonio River had more curves than a sidewinder rattlesnake... and it was just as dangerous as a rattlesnake.

In September 1921, a disastrous flood along the San Antonio River took 50 lives.  Plans were quickly developed for flood control of the river.  The idea was to "straighten out" the river. 

This would allow the waters to flow downstream more rapidly before they could back up in a storm and create new flooding.

As part of the Straightening Plan, the engineers wanted to bypass an unusually prominent curve in the river.  Since this headache curve was in the downtown area, it presented a real threat to property in the area should another flood occur. 

Once the bypass channel was complete, the water in the wide bend would be drained and replaced by sewer pipes, then paved over to create new streets. 

Work on Olmos Dam and the bypass channel began in 1926.

However, the second phase did not come to pass. The San Antonio Conservation Society successfully protested the paved sewer option.  So the water just sat there in that wide bend for three years while people tried to come up with ideas what to do with the stagnant water besides raise mosquitoes.

No major plans came into play until 1929, when San Antonio native and architect Robert Hugman submitted his plans for what would become the River Walk.

The leadership of former mayor Jack White was instrumental in passage of a bond issue that raised funds to empower the 1938 “San Antonio River Beautification Project”.  This began the evolution of the site into the present 2.5-mile-long River Walk.

According to Wikipedia, twenty million tourists visit the city and its attractions every year, primarily due to the Alamo and the Riverwalk as well as SeaWorld and Fiesta Texas.

As one might guess, these tourists contribute substantially to the city's economy.  The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center alone hosts more than 300 events each year with over 750,000 convention delegates from around the world.

And why do so many people want to come to San Antonio for these events?  Because the Riverwalk gives them something fun to do in the evening after a long day of meetings and lectures.

Tourism employs 94,000 citizens and makes an economic impact of over $10.7 billion (yes, Billion) in the local economy as revealed in the Economic Impact Study conducted every two years by the San Antonio Tourism Council and Trinity University.

Tourism also brings new annual revenues to the City of San Antonio and other governmental entities with the hotel & motel tax, sales taxes and other revenues from hospitality agreements and contracts. This number exceeded over $300 million in the most recent update.

And what is my point?   Tourism can be a valuable commodity for any city.   But first you need an attraction. 

To understand what the engineers did, they dug a large BYPASS channel that became the straight part of the river on the left.  Then they put dams between the straight part and the huge curve. 

Who would have ever thought that a bend in the river could turn out to be so valuable??   San Antonio has built an entire industry around this lucrative area - hotels, restaurants, convention centers. 

   


Houston Needs Something Fun to do


If you are a Houstonian like me, I dare you to think of one special place to take a visiting friend or relative here in our home town that is cool. 

And when I say "cool", you can assume I am using both meanings. 

My recent trip to Vancouver set me to thinking.  On Day 2 of our visit, Marla and I visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

The Suspension Bridge was cool.  So was the Cliffwalk.  So was the Tarzan Canopy Walk at the top of the trees.  So was the nature walk below.  Best of all, the temperature was 70°.

If you live in Houston, you know where I am going with this. 
We Houstonians have absolutely nothing to compare.

Think about San Antonio's Riverwalk for example.

Why doesn't Houston have something cool like a Riverwalk? 
Trust me, Houston could really use something unusual. 

As a Houstonian, I am embarrassed to admit I have actually taken out-of-town relatives to San Antonio to have fun.  I would rather drive 200 miles to San Antonio because I know my relatives will enjoy themselves.  Besides the Riverwalk, San Antonio also has the Alamo plus an excellent amusement park, Six Flags Fiesta.

Does anybody remember Astroworld?  Oh, yes, they are building a new park somewhere north of Kingwood.  That is all well and good.  However, the New Caney amusement park is 35 miles north of downtown.  Given Houston traffic, that's at least an hour drive.  And what is the temperature going to be?

Astroworld on Loop 610 was just 6 miles from downtown. Capilano Suspension Bridge is just 4 miles from downtown.

I ask you again... if you live in Houston, where do you take your visitor that is both cool and cool AND convenient

Well, there is Moody Gardens and Schlitterbahn down in Galveston.  45 miles.  Maybe if we had rapid transit like a train??

I have a hard time thinking of a single thing that is both special and fun to do for out-of-town guests that is convenient here in Houston, someplace where you don't have to spend an hour one way and an hour coming back

I can tell you what we don’t have... 

  We don’t have a Riverwalk. 
 
We don’t have an amusement park. 
 
We don't have a beautiful river that flows through our city.
 
We don't have natural wonders like mountains or oceans.
 
We don't have a Yellowstone or a Yosemite or a Denali Park. 

Furthermore, we don't have a single iconic landmark.

The Astrodome was once Houston's icon. 

A year after opening, the Astrodome became America's third-most-visited man-made tourist attraction, behind only Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge.

But that's gone now, isn't it?  And our status as Space City is currently dormant with no particular future in sight. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think Houston is a good place to make a living and raise children.  It is also a good place for people to come and do business.

I just don’t think Houston has much going for it in the way of large-scale tourist attractions.  I bet the people who run our convention centers are praying for just one major attraction.

What about Super Bowls?  What about Summer Olympics? 

The world just yawns.  They want to go someplace FUN.

Trust me, in the eyes of the outside world, Houston is about as boring as any major city in the world. 

And that is a fact.  

The Capilano River Suspension Bridge in Vancouver 

Suspension Bridge. Cliffwalk. Canopy Walk at the top of the trees. Nature walk.   Best of all, the temperature was 70°.  It was FUN!!

Capilano Park was also expensive.  $35.  Trust me, I was glad to pay the money because it was a high quality tourist experience. 

   


Tale of Two City Parks


Marla and I had the privilege of visiting Stanley Park, an urban oasis in Vancouver, Canada, prior to our 2014 Alaska cruise.

As I was writing my recap about our visit to Stanley Park, I was surprised to learn Houston's own Memorial Park is larger. 

I happen to be very familiar with Memorial Park.  Marla and I visit the park practically every day of the week for a 3-mile walk.

Marla and I believe strongly in walking for our health (Walking Tradition).  Thanks to our home location here in the Heights, Marla and I are fortunate to be close enough to Memorial Park to take our daily walks there.

Due to my familiarity with Memorial Park, I couldn't help but compare the two parks while I walked through Stanley Park.

In many ways, Houston's Memorial Park compares quite favorably to Vancouver's Stanley Park.

Both parks are very large.  Stanley Park is 1,000 acres, Memorial Park is 1,300 acres.

Stanley Park is conveniently located close to downtown.  So is Memorial Park.

Both parks are divided in half by major commuter roads.  Unfortunately Memorial Park is also divided by a railroad.

Both parks are widely utilized by people looking for an outdoor venue to exercise and stay in shape. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to "beauty", Memorial Park doesn't even begin to compete.  Stanley Park is much prettier. 

For one thing, Stanley Park has water.  The two lakes are pretty and that walk along the seawall has a spectacular view.  In addition, Stanley Park has fountains, streams, gentle waterfalls and a lovely rose garden. 

Memorial Park is more on the rugged side.  Memorial Park isn't particularly known for its soft touches.

Stanley Park is a place where people meet for friendship and romance.  It has an inn where friends can gather for a beer.  Memorial Park has a steakhouse, but it's not the same thing.

Nevertheless, by and large, I think Memorial Park compares favorably to Stanley Park.  I imagine with the addition of some frills, Memorial Park could begin to compete with Stanley Park.

But it will never happen.  Memorial Park has a serious drawback: Texas Heat!! 

If you live in Houston, you know what I am talking about. 

At Stanley Park, even when it is winter, you can dress warmly and still be comfortable.  Not so at Memorial Park.  You could go there naked and still be miserable. Except for April and October, I would not dream of taking an out-of-town visitor to Memorial Park.

No one wants to take a visitor to Memorial Park because you know they are going to suffer the moment they step out of the car thanks to the heat and the tropical humidity. 

Even worse, now we have deadly mosquitoes.  If a person is bitten by one... and they bite through repellent and clothing... someone can actually die from a walk in the park

No Texan with a brain spends anymore time outside than necessary. 

On the other hand, if I lived in Vancouver, I would take visitors to Stanley Park in a heartbeat.  Why?  

Stanley Park is far prettier.  It has more things to do.  It is a meeting place along the same lines as New York's Central Park.  It has an Inn on the premises where people can go to relax and have a beer with friends after a long walk along the seawall.  It has an aquarium.  It has a mini-golf course that anyone can play no matter what their skill level.

Did you know that Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics?

During the Olympics, Stanley Park was filled to the brim because many of the major hotels in the city are within walking distance to the Park.  That brings up Stanley Park's other major advantage over Memorial Park... just like the San Antonio Riverwalk,  Stanley Park is within walking distance of the hotels. 

Stanley Park is a major reason Vancouver was chosen to host the Olympics.  The whole world wanted to come visit this paradise by the sea.  Stanley Park is an enormous asset to Vancouver in much the same way that the Riverwalk helps San Antonio.  

Here is a curious thought.  Stanley Park, the Riverwalk and the Houston Astrodome all have something unusual in common.

At one point in time, they wanted to pave over that curious bend in the San Antonio River.   

At one point in time, they wanted to knock down the forest and expand downtown Vancouver further to the edge of the water.  Faced with the choice between leveling the forest for urban development, the city fathers decided to save the park instead.

At the moment, many people want to knock down the Astrodome.

Now isn't that an interesting parallel?

Stanley Park - the jewel by the sea.  

Can you imagine this entire area cut down to be filled by high-rise towers?   That's what they wanted to do.   Why let valuable ocean front property like this go to waste? 

Here in Houston, they point out how Reliant Park could use some more convenient parking.  Just what Houston needs - more concrete.

Thanks to Houston heat, Memorial Park isn't very pretty right now.  The effects of Houston's 2011 drought are still readily apparent.

As one can gather, Stanley Park is no stranger to rain.  Please don't misunderstand... I appreciate Memorial Park.  But it isn't the same.

   


Galveston's Moody Gardens


Considering Houston's heat, it sure would be nice to take a nature walk where someone isn't completely covered in sweat when the hike is over. 

Have you ever visited the Rainforest Pyramid at Galveston's Moody Gardens?   If not, you should go there.  This is a wonderful park.

In particular, they have a lovely structure known as the "Rainforest Pyramid" that allows someone to do just that - take a relaxing journey through a rainforest that is air-conditioned.

What a blessing!

In particular Marla and I enjoyed our walk through this tropical paradise.  What a treat it was to appreciate all this stunning tropical foliage placed in a climate-controlled environment. 

One day when I was thinking what we might do with the Astrodome, I became curious to know the size of this pyramid.

Using the "Ruler Tool" of Google Earth, I estimated the base of each side of the Rainforest Pyramid at 200 feet.   That gives us total of 40,000 square feet.  An acre is 43,560 square feet. 

The size of the Rainforest Pyramid is one acre

By chance, I ran across a web site that used the Rainforest Pyramid as a way to teach people how to figure the area inside a pyramid.  This web site confirmed my math was correct.

   


Astrodome Math


Rick Archer's Note:
 

Now that we know the size of the Rainforest Pyramid, let's see just how much space we have to work with in the Astrodome. 

The Astrodome has a diameter of 712 feet with an overall height of 208 ft.

Using some rusty math, I came up with a RADIUS of 356 (half the diameter of 712). 

356 squared is 126,736.   126,736 times 3.14 (Pi) = 397,952 square feet.

397,952 square feet divided by 43,560 (one acre) = 9.13 acres

Then by searching the Internet I came up with confirmation

   

In other words, the Astrodome has 9 acres to work with. 

By comparison, the Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens in Galveston is one Acre.

Whatever we put inside the Astrodome can match NINE Rainforest Pyramids.

   


The Astrodome:
What if We Used a Little Imagination?


Okay, we all agree the Houston is not blessed with a balmy climate.  Our grotesquely hot and sticky environment guarantees Houston will never be a place known for its outdoor pleasures. 

That said, thanks to air-conditioning, Houston does not have to be held hostage to our climate any more than the Arabs in Dubai with their crazy ski resort. 

Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort that reportedly cost $400 million to build back in 2005.

The resort has five slopes and is kept at a chilly -1 degrees Celsius. However, enjoying snow in arid temperatures is quite expensive: it would cost you $200 per person to ski for two hours.

The Astrodome is a world-class facility just begging to be utilized in some way.  If Dubai can build a ski resort in the middle of the desert, I feel certain that Houston's engineers can do whatever they put their minds to.

The ski resort in Dubai, a wealthy oil city on the edge of the desert in the United Arab Emirates, has proven to be so popular that now LONDON of all places is considering doing the same thing at the cost of $300 million USD.

The London Mayor said the £200 million ($326 million USD) snow dome would be the double the size of any other indoor ski centre in the country and comparable with the Ski Dubai facility in the United Arab Emirates.

The year-round attraction hopes to attract up to three million visitors a year and could be ready to open its doors in 2015.  (source)

So what is London up to?  London understands the value of tourist dollars and wishes to capitalize further on its status as a world-class tourist destination. 
 


Here is my point -  If the idea is ingenious enough, people are willing to invest fantastic amounts of money to build it.

If the idea for the Astrodome is strong, Houston has a perfect chance to match what these other cities have done.

We have one huge advantage - our facility is already there!

I am about to suggest we put four things in the Astrodome: a Riverwalk, a restaurant level, a shopping mall, and a Moody Gardens-style Rainforest on the upper level.

For starters, how about creating the world's largest indoor waterfall??   Once upon a time, we had the world's largest scoreboard.  Now I imagine we could have the world's largest indoor waterfall instead. 

London is suggesting they might spend $326 million on a ski park.  Ordinarily, I would expect that people would laugh themselves silly to spend $300 million on a fantasy project like this.

No one in their right mind would dream of spending $300 million for a structure to house a waterfall.

Agreed!!  

But we don't have to spend $300 million, do we?

Incidentally, we spent close to that amount back in 1964 when the Dome opened

Currently, the Astrodome... once described as the Eighth Wonder of the World... is sitting completely idle. 

Furthermore, it would cost $29 million just to get rid of it.

The latest cost estimate to raze the decaying Reliant Astrodome and build a parking lot is $29 million, cited in a study released this week commissioned by the Houston Texans and Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

That automatically gives us $29 million reasons to find something useful to do with the Astrodome!! 

Here is another sobering thought:

The Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo have developed a $66 million plan to demolish the historic Astrodome and replace it with a green space and "Astrodome Hall of Fame.  (source)

They are going to tear down a $262 million dollar facility to create green space?  That does not sound very practical.

And they are willing to spend $66 million to do it?  That means we have $66 million dollars to come up with a better idea, yes??   I imagine $66 million will build a lot of things.

Whatever we build inside would automatically have the advantage of being COMFORTABLE on a year-round basis.

Before you get the wrong idea, no, it is not my suggestion to build a ski resort inside the Astrodome. 

Unlike the Persian Gulf, we have a winter wonderland known as "Colorado" just around the corner.  Besides, I want something that everyone can do.  You can't bring small children to a ski resort.  You can't bring your grandmother to a ski resort.  In fact, what's the point of bringing anyone to a ski resort if they can't ski?

We need something with a more universal appeal because there will be a tremendous amount of politics involved in whatever idea people come up with. 

I prefer something that will draw lots of people to the place, not a just a bunch of skiers.

Truth be told, it is pretty obvious many people in Houston simply want the place demolished and be done with it.  Why spend taxpayer money maintaining the massive facility if it doesn't serve any useful purpose?

Furthermore, both the Texans football team and the Rodeo people have a certain amount of veto power on whatever gets done.  So whatever plan we come up with, it needs to make those two entities happy.

To quote the words of Charles Kuffner,

Regarding the Astrodome, have everyone on board, not just in the “won’t oppose it” sense but in the genuine, holding-hands-and-singing-Kumbaya sense.

What drives the cynicism I’m talking about is the sense that the Texans and the Rodeo are just sandbagging until they can force the demolition of the Dome, and that Commissioners Court is playing along with them.

The only way to counter the view that this is all a game is to have all the stakeholders front and center in support of the plan, and to communicate that support by all means possible.

In other words, we need a plan that the entire City of Houston can embrace.

Houston can have the best of all worlds. 

All we need is a little imagination. 

Here is a look at Dubai's incredible ski resort in the desert.  They say "if you build it, they will come."  And yes, apparently the attendance is very good.  Unfortunately, while I applaud the ingenuity involved, I don't think the Astrodome is meant to be an indoor ski resort.

Behind those seats are different LEVELS complete with stairs and a concourse.  My suggestion is to put elevated platforms extending one-third into the open area above the ground floor.  Then add two wall-to-wall floors above.  This will partition the Dome into four levels.

Please accept my apologies for the crude 'cut and paste' artwork, but I thought a quick picture would help.  This picture shows four sections. 

Level One:  The Houston Riverwalk.  Convert the floor into a giant waterworks complex complete with canals, waterfalls and a lagoon.  How about some Venetian-style gondolas or flat boats? 

Add bridges, terraces and elevated walkways.  Make it a stunningly beautiful area to walk through, take a boat ride, or enjoy looking at from a restaurant on the level above.

Level Two: Restaurants.  Elevated high above the ground floor, put restaurants on platforms with a view of the spectacle below.  Use the columns that support the platform to build tree houses and connecting rope bridges.  As a centerpiece, create a magnificent indoor waterfall.

Level Three:   Build a shopping mall.  Marla thinks this would be a big hit, especially if it had a cinema for dinner and a movie.

Level Four:  The Houston SkyPark.  Recreate Stanley Park and Moody Gardens by putting a Japanese Garden at the top level.  Make it the best INDOOR walking area the world has ever seen. 

For style, add a European-style Hedge Maze complete with fountains and statues.  Then add some open-air sidewalk cafes for wine, coffee, tea and lots of friendship.  Make it a park-like atmosphere in a perfect environment.

   


Brand New Hotels


There is an old saying, "If they build it, they will come."

I suggest there is another saying,
"If they tear it down, no one will come."

Surely there must be a better idea than to tear down the Astrodome and turn it into a giant Astrodome graveyard site.

That doesn't sound like much of a tourist attraction.

By an odd coincidence, at this very moment there just happens to be a graveyard site right across South Loop 610.

Did you know the area where Astroworld and Waterworld once stood is now a gigantic field?

I took a quick peek using Google Earth to what is there now.
You can see the picture for yourself on the right. 

Astroworld and Waterworld are perfect examples of the adage:
"If you tear it down, no one will come."

Astroworld and Waterworld are Exhibit #1A and #1B for the absolute stupidity of tearing down something that could have value.  Houstonians still mourn the loss of those parks.

Following the death of Astroworld and Waterworld, those fields have sat there vacant for nearly ten years now.  And if we don't do something, they might sit there vacant for another ten years.

I would imagine this site would be perfect for new hotels.

Only one problem... why would anyone want to  stay in those hotels?   There is nothing to do in this area.

Trust me, no hotels are coming to this area for people who wish to see the Astrodome grave site.

Yes, it is true that one month out of the year this area gets remarkably busy with the Houston Rodeo. 

And it is true that NRG Stadium, the new name for Reliant Stadium, is busy with 2 Texan exhibition games a year and 8 regular season games.  And there is the occasional special event in the football stadium such as high school football playoffs.

However, by and large, NRG Stadium stays vacant most of the year. 

And that giant parking lot stays vacant most of the year as well.

Wouldn't it be nice to fill that parking lot on a daily basis?  Think of the revenues!   And that giant Astroworld cemetery is not collecting much in the way of tax revenues either.  Think of the revenues some new hotels would bring.

The magic of the San Antonio Riverwalk is that it enticed some major hotels to build around it.  Once that happened, the San Antonio Riverwalk exploded with economic development. 

But you have to have an attraction first!

I say put a Riverwalk in the Astrodome.  If it worked for San Antonio, let's make it work for Houston.  Let's fill the Astrodome, let's fill that parking lot, and while we are at it, let's see if we can't bring some hotels to that giant empty field.

Astrodome demolition plan proposed by Texans, Houston Rodeo
They will make a Hall of Fame where the Astrodome once stood.
Rest in peace, Astrodome.  Dust to dust, concrete to concrete.

   
   


The Houston Riverwalk


Seriously, if someone can build a ski resort in the Arabian Desert, don't you think Houston can build a Riverwalk on the ground floor of the Astrodome?

Please forget the dirt bike trails.  Please forget the concert venue.  Please forget the Hall of Fame.  And no, we don't need an indoor golf course.  We need something we don't already have that lots of people would like to come see.

Let's build something beautiful that will attract people to the Astrodome every single day and night of the week. 

You want the hotels to arrive?  First you have to give them a reason to build.  San Antonio built the Riverwalk, then the hotels kicked in.  Currently the Astroworld-Waterworld complex on the other side of Look 610 is empty.  Make the Astrodome a world-class facility and watch the convention people begin to show interest.  When the conventions arrive, the hotels will follow. 

However, first you need a major attraction.

You say, oh, how silly.  How are we going to put a Riverwalk in the Astrodome? 

I say look around and see what other people have done. 

First I say take a visit to Atlantis.  No, not the lost continent, but rather the stunning tourist park they built in the Bahamas.

I have previously written two articles about my trips to Atlantis.

Atlantis 2010   Atlantis 2012

The success of Atlantis suggests that we could create similar man-made beauty in the Dome.  

When I first visited Atlantis, I remember exactly what I said to myself:
"Why can't we have something like this in Houston?"

I hope it is not blasphemy to suggest that man has begun to approach the skill of our Creator in recreating the natural beauty first carved out on Earth.  Trust me, I certainly mean no disrespect. 

I will simply say that it never ceases to amaze me how humans have learned to make these artificial scenes look so genuine.

   

My plan is to create a system of deep canals running across the Astrodome ground floor.  I know it can be done because they did it at Atlantis. 

Make these canals deep enough to permit gondolas or flat boats to ride throughout the complex.  Incidentally, the area inside the rectangle is only slightly larger than the nine acres of space we have inside the Astrodome.  All we have to do is reconfigure and suddenly we have an Astrodome Riverwalk.

Those canals form a "Lazy River".  That canal loop is 7/10ths of a mile.  I think it took our tubes close to an hour to make the full circuit.  In other words, by making good use of our available space, the Astrodome Riverwalk could be made long enough to create a half hour boat ride.

These pictures are from the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas

Wherever one goes, there is beauty such as this.

   

One major concern would be how to grow lush scenery such as this in an area with no natural light.  I doubt it could be done.

Personally, I have no trouble with plastic plants.  I see plastic plants in hotel atriums and gasp with surprise when I see they aren't real.

I haven't gotten to the Giant Waterfall yet, but we will certainly want the waterfall to empty into an elevated lagoon.  Then from this lagoon, we can have three or small smaller waterfalls emptying into our water canal system.  Incidentally, all of these waterfalls are man-made. 

Take note of the rope bridge.  Make this place fun!

At the Atlantis Resort, there are waterfalls everywhere you go and lovely pools of water.   They look natural, but water pipes and water pumps are helping to create the magical illusion of "Nature at Work".

The one thing to always keep in mind is that everything you see - waterfalls, grottos, ponds, rock formations, rivers - is MAN MADE. 

   

 I would suggest converting the entire ground floor of the Astrodome into a nature park of sorts.  Let people stroll hand in hand throughout the complex.  Put walkways that weave throughout the canal system.  The walkways would cross over the canals via bridges.

One-third of the ground floor will have elevated restaurants looking down from above.  Underneath these restaurant platforms we can put tree houses, rope bridges & more canals plus terraces and waterfalls.

It is not my intention to bring back Waterworld inside the Astrodome.  No bathing suits, please.   Think "Venice", not Schlitterbahn. 

I visualize either thin boats such as Venetian-style gondolas or larger flatboats (or both!) that wind their way through the giant network of canals.   Surely on one part of the route the boat will cross under the giant waterfall.  These canals would become Houston's answer to San Antonio's fabulous Riverwalk.

These gondola pictures are from the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. 

The funny thing is, every time I have a new idea, I find a picture of it on the Internet.  This tells me is that every single idea I have is do-able.

It also tells me that if Vegas can copy the rest of the world, so can we.

The two most imaginative places on Earth are Las Vegas and Dubai.  They both have something in common - a climate so desolate that no one in their right mind would visit unless there was splendor.

There is no reason why Houston can't dream big as well.  Let's take a hint from Las Vegas and roll the dice on a huge project.

   

Dedicate the entire ground floor to water and walkways. 

Then elevate the restaurants on the second level of the Astrodome.  Have the canals weave down below under the restaurant platforms.

Here is an example of what I mean by using platforms except the Astrodome would have much higher and more elaborate platforms.

The beauty of the Astrodome is that everything is open air.  Have decks on the second level so people can admire the beauty down below. 

I can imagine an aerial gondola stretching across, but I prefer a suspension bridge. 

If Capilano Park in Vancouver can have a a suspension bridge, why can't we?  A bridge across the second level of the Astrodome would offer quite a view of our waterfall.

The idea is to recreate the San Antonio experience of water, walkways, and open-air restaurants... except the Astrodome restaurants should be suspended high in the sky to emphasize the breath-taking beauty below.

The Astrodome lacks the breadth of the S.A. Riverwalk, but it can become three-dimensional.  You can put an 18-story building inside the Astrodome.  There is plenty of room to build the restaurants HIGH ABOVE the water complex.

Rick's Note: I am not quite sure the readers can visualize my layout, so here is another diagram.

Think of four levels.  I imagine 30 giant support columns will need to be built to support the Restaurant Level, the Shopping Mall Level and the Skypark Level.

Now visualize a round pizza.  One giant slice will be left open all the way to the roof so that we can build a mountain all the from the ground to the top of the Astrodome.

From the top of this mountain, a giant waterfall will cascade.  The waterfall can be seen at the Skypark Level, the Shopping Mall Level, and then of course the Restaurant Level and the Riverwalk Level.

Now visualize a giant doughnut.  Level Two - the Restaurant Level - will be open in the center.  Level Two will make a ring 3/4ths of the way around the perimeter of the wall and will 1/3rd towards the center of the ground floor.

The Restaurant Level will be able to look down upon the Riverwalk Floor below.  It will also have a perfect view of the Lagoon, the Plaza, and the Magic Fountain. 

The Giant Waterfall will empty into a Lagoon that is much higher than the canal system which will be at the ground level.

The entire ground floor will then be dedicated to a river system of deep canals that intertwine between the giant support columns.  Small streams will leave the elevated Lagoon and create small waterfalls that empty into the canal system.  Walkways and bridges will allow people to walk freely through the entire complex. 

Next to the Lagoon will be a large Plaza complete with a Magic Fountain.  A  permanent Plaza stage will surely be appropriate for open air concerts, but whoever puts in permanent seating should be shot.  If people are forced to stand, maybe they will be encouraged to dance in that Plaza.  Imagine that.

A better idea would be to create terraces around the Plaza to look down from.  That way people can walk from the restaurants above or the small hills below.

Think Pizza... one slice will be left open all the way to the roof to accommodate the Magic Mountain and the Waterfall.  That way the Astrodome can have the world's tallest indoor Waterfall at 200 feet.

Think Doughnut... a ring of Restaurants will extend one-third of the above the Riverwalk to allow for overhead viewing.

 

 


Gaylord Opryland and the Giant Waterfall

The Astrodome Waterfall should become legendary.  Take this lovely indoor waterfall and multiply it times three!  That would be amazing. It only took a moment to find this picture that demonstrate an indoor waterfall is certainly feasible.  In so doing, I came to the realization that several modern hotels already have stunning indoor courtyards.  Incidentally, those lovely plants are quite likely artificial replicas.

As I scanned the Internet for pictures of "hotel atrium", one place in particular kept popping up all the time - Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

This indoor waterfall can be seen at the
Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.   Their Cascades Atrium is very similar to what I visualize for the Astrodome.

   
By coincidence, my friends Tom and Margaret Easley have been guests at the Gaylord Opryland hotel.  As they described it, the Gaylord Opryland has an incredible indoor tropical garden known as the Cascades Atrium.  Tom and Margaret once spent an entire morning strolling through acres upon acres of trees, plants, flowers, streams, and waterfalls all under roof.

Based on Tom and Margaret's recommendation, I went to the Internet to investigate.  I quickly learned the atrium has 10,000 tropical plants.   It also has a waterfall.  It turns out that the waterfall at the Cascades Atrium is 3.5 stories tall (44 feet). 

I have to be honest... I felt kind of squelched to discover my idea of building the world's tallest indoor waterfall had already been accomplished.  However, a little voice suggested there might another one even taller than Gaylord.  So I checked it out. 

The International Center in Detroit is said to be home to the world's tallest indoor waterfall rising 114 feet (34.75 meters).  This height is confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records.

There was only one problem.  I couldn't seem to find a picture of the world's tallest indoor waterfall.  There had to be one...

I figured out my problem -- they claim this hi-tech water trickle is a "waterfall".  Maybe so, but this isn't what I had in mind.  The picture on the right is what I had in mind.

So now I turned my attention back to Gaylord Opryland.

I was disappointed to discover my idea of an indoor Riverwalk had already been accomplished.  The outstanding feature of the Gaylord atrium turned out to be the inclusion of the quarter-mile-long Delta River.  Delta Flatboats carry guests along the lazy river past a water fountain choreographed to music.

A fountain choreographed to music?  I smiled... would that be "country music" by some chance?  It is Nashville after all. 

It turns out that Barcelona, Spain, also has a Magic Fountain.  Their fountain plays beautiful classical music.  The water is lit up at night by different colors to create a lovely display.  The Magic Fountain serves as an enormous tourist attraction. 

The inclusion of the "Magic Fountain" at Nashville was oddly reassuring to me.  Maybe there are no 'new ideas'.  I suppose people copy the ideas of other places all the time.  

A major reason behind any Astrodome renovation would be to draw tourists to the city.  For that matter, I would visit a place like this myself.  I can imagine bringing Marla to dinner here.  Not only dinner, but perhaps a stroll through the park afterwards?

Assuming the project is done tastefully, I can imagine the Houston Riverwalk would become a highly romantic place for a couple to spend an evening together or to bring out-of-town guests. 

That certainly seems to be the model of Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

Gaylord Opryland Nashville is a hotel that is a theme park all in itself. Or maybe it is a theme park doubling as a hotel.  Someone had the guts to try a grand scale.  The place has 2,881 guest rooms united by indoor gardens so vast -- there are nine acres -- that there is enough room for an indoor river plus 14 places to eat.

I think the Astrodome Riverwalk should have restaurants as well, but with a twist.  The Astrodome is not only nine acres as well, the Astrodome has tremendous height. 

I remember distinctly having different seating levels in the Astrodome.   It stands to reason that the Astrodome could have 14 places to eat as well, but let them be built on elevated platforms on Level Two.

I would line almost the entire ring of the second tier with restaurants.  Put them high in the sky so people could look down at the beauty from above.  Leave one corner open for the waterfall.

I would add a "Capilano-style" suspension bridge that would cross the second level of the Astrodome high above.  Now that would be quite a walk!  As impressive as the Capilano suspension bridge is, I think the Astrodome Suspension Bridge would quickly become very famous as well. 

I would put the source of our magnificent waterfall as high up in the Restaurant level as possible.  Imagine the people lining up on that suspension bridge to take shots of the waterfall and the panorama on the floor below!  Don't forget to wave to the diners!

Gaylord Opryland is spread out over nine acres.  However half of their space is taken up with buildings and restaurants.

The Astrodome has four acres... the size of four football fields side by side.  If our restaurants were elevated as I suggest, we could dedicate the entire ground floor of the Astrodome strictly to our Riverwalk.   Hopefully that would give us a romantic river just as impressive as the one in the picture.  And people seated above would have this beauty to appreciate throughout their meal.

   

Rick Archer's Note:  As I mentioned, Marla and I went  to dinner one night with our friends Tom and Margaret.  I told them I was intrigued with the situation at the Astrodome and that I was putting together a story to illustrate some of my ideas.

First Tom replied.  First he said my ideas about any indoor maze would surely raise an eyebrow with the fire marshal.  The idea of mixing a public venue with a maze that does not allow for rapid escape in case of fire would probably not fly. 

However, when Tom saw how sad my face had become, he quickly added that signs pointing to emergency exit doors could be posted and perhaps allow my maze idea to be used nevertheless.

The next thing Tom said was that he totally agreed my ideas were far superior to anything he had heard so far.  Tom encouraged me to keep at it because he believed I was on the right track.

Then Margaret spoke up.  Margaret said she especially liked the indoor river idea.  She reminded Tom about the time he was being interviewed for a possible job in Nashville.  Tom and Margaret had stayed at an unusual hotel known as the "Gaylord Hotel" that featured a massive indoor atrium.

At the mention of "Gaylord", my ears perked up.  Several of the pictures I had found on the Internet had identified "Gaylord Opryland" as their source.  Sure enough, this was the same place.

So I asked Margaret if she would mind writing about her experience at Gaylord Hotel.  Margaret said she would be glad to help. 

Margaret Easley
8 September 2014

In the summer of 2000, my family planned a trip to Nashville, Tennessee. We were going partly for fun and partly for business purposes.

Our main goal was to see the Grand Ole Opry. However, I love planning out trips and it is especially important when children are involved, so I got on the internet to see what else Nashville had to offer. I was intrigued when I came upon a website on the Grand Ole Opry Gaylord center. It was an entire complex of businesses built in an indoor environment.

The main building is the Gaylord Hotel, which has a New Orleans theme, complete with wrought iron work and columns on massive porches. The hotel had rooms overlooking the center of the extremely large atrium complex. I booked a room with a "river" view.

The hotel was not cheap by any means, but the novelty of the complex gave me the incentive to splurge.

The hotel was elegant and lived up to expectations. Our room had a balcony overlooking the river with little flatbed river boats (looking like San Antonio's River Walk boats) floating almost directly beneath us.

The kids loved it!

After getting settled in our rooms, we were anxious to explore the complex. It did not disappoint. As we walked by restaurants and shops along bricked streets with abundant trees and flowers, I marveled at how this was all inside.

I felt exactly like I was in some beautiful tropical setting with 72 degrees constant temperature! Nashville weather in the summer is a lot like Houston summer weather, so I really appreciated the temperature control!

The stand out feature was the awesomely huge waterfall. You reached it by walking a series of paths and crossing a series of bridges.

Of course, along the way, you were tempted to stop at the restaurants and shops that lined the walkways. The environment was made even more appealing by little Dixieland bands that were playing in several locations. I'm not sure how many shops and restaurants there were.

We were only there for one day and night, but we made sure to eat in as many different locations as possible (including the old fashioned ice cream shop). Every location made you feel that you were dining al fresco in a lovely garden/river view setting minus the bugs and humidity!  The beauty of outdoors with the comfort of indoors is a very powerful combination. 

Of course, we also had to take a ride on the river boats!

The entire time I was there, I kept thinking "This is what they should do with the Astrodome!".  

I was delighted when I talked to Rick and found out he had the same idea on a much larger scale. I agree with Rick that the Astrodome could become a major tourist attraction again with the right planning.

I love his ideas on rivers and mazes and rope bridges to further the appeal for families.  

My only suggestion is to build a hotel alongside the dome so that the rooms overlook all the beautiful scenery as they did at the Gaylord.  Don't know if this is possible, but that really appeals to me!

Good luck on selling this idea, Rick!

You are so right when you say there is nothing special to draw tourists to Houston - -  Margaret Easley

"Of course, we also had to take a ride on the river boats!"
 

       "The stand out feature was the awesomely huge waterfall."
 

"The beauty of outdoors with the comfort of indoors is a very powerful combination."

Rick's Note: The Gaylord Opryland complex is a smash hit.
If you need more convincing, then go see this website:
Blissdom and the Opryland Hotel

   

Gaylord Hotel's answer to Barcelona's Magic Fountain. 

Do I see "Slow Slow Quick Quick" in the rise and fall? 
They must be playing a Twostep.

It is beautiful to see the water winding through the lush landscape.

What I would change would be to elevate the dining area ABOVE the gardens and walkways to make room for longer rivers below.

   

Imagine how the Astrodome could change the lighting by time of day to create different looks.  This picture is day.

This is night.  I imagine the subdued lighting would be awesome.

   

Gaylord Opryland has a hotel in Dallas as well.

Put the dining area up at the level where the metal latticework is. 

   

Here is Gaylord Opryland on the Potomac River of Washington, DC.

The height of this hotel gave me another idea.  The restaurants will form a ring.  Why not attach a walkway on the outer perimeter directly below the restaurants?  Attach the walkway to the columns that support the restaurants.  Connect the ring with a rope bridge crossing the waterfall.

One of the advantages of using the Dome would be split levels.

Notice how the water is at a sunken level in the picture.  Then there are terraced gardens and walkways above.  In the Astrodome, the Giant Waterfall would hit the lagoon, then water from the lagoon would create smaller waterfalls that would empty into the canals.

   

The point of this picture is to remind everyone that walking through beautiful natural settings is both relaxing and very romantic.

What would make our Houston Riverwalk spectacular would not just be the stunning ground floor, but the verticality as well.  The height of the Astrodome allows all kinds of terraces and split levels.

You can put a virtual mountain on one side of the ground floor. 

   

Half the space at Gaylord is dedicated to retail and restaurants. My idea is to dedicate the entire ground floor to the panorama.  Let there be bridges, waterways, walkways, fountains and gazebos without commercial structures. 

Then put a shopping mall on the level above that is out of sight.

This picture shows the value of verticality.  Imagine the lagoon above with a system of smaller waterfalls emptying into the canals. I imagine those boat rides would be wonderful fun.   And I imagine the tableau of the entire floor below would be something to behold.


Putting a Hotel at the Astrodome


Here is what Margaret Easley said about the Cascades at Gaylord Hotel:

"Of course, along the way, you were tempted to stop at the restaurants and shops that lined the walkways. The environment was made even more appealing by little Dixieland bands that were playing in several locations. I'm not sure how many shops and restaurants there were.

We were only there for one day and night, but we made sure to eat in as many different locations as possible (including the old fashioned ice cream shop). Every location made you feel that you were dining al fresco in a lovely garden/river view setting minus the bugs and humidity!  The beauty of outdoors with the comfort of indoors is a very powerful combination. 

Of course, we also had to take a ride on the river boats!

The entire time I was there, I kept thinking "This is what they should do with the Astrodome!".  

I was delighted when I talked to Rick and found out he had the same idea on a much larger scale. I agree with Rick that the Astrodome could become a major tourist attraction again with the right planning.

I love his ideas on rivers and mazes and rope bridges to further the appeal for families.  

My only suggestion is to build a hotel alongside the dome so that the rooms overlook all the beautiful scenery as they did at the Gaylord.  Don't know if this is possible, but that really appeals to me!"

Margaret is right.  The Astrodome should seek a partnership with a major hotel and build it right next door.  The hotel would become just as famous as the Astrodome itself.

Ideally, the flagship hotel would go right next door.  But if it has to go across on the other side of South Loop 610, so be it. 

However, any hotel on the other side of the Astrodome would be a half mile away.  So wherever the hotel goes, put in a ride.  Have a train in a tunnel, have an aerial gondola, whatever, that connects the flagship hotel to the Astrodome. 

I suppose it would be nuts to say this, but someone might consider laying out an OUTDOOR Riverwalk course in that giant parking lot for the future.   I do not know why someday that giant parking lot cannot be converted into an outdoor Riverwalk as well.

For starters, they could begin by making a walkway complete with trees that would diagram the future outdoor Riverwalk.  Then some day they can dig up the walkway and convert it to water.  I cannot imagine why it hurts to think ahead. 

Then someday build a giant Shopping Mall on top of it!!  Then we would have two Riverwalks.

You know, all that empty space looks terrible.  But in a sense, that empty space around the Astrodome is a blessing.

They had evict people to create New York's Central Park.  If it wasn't so darn hot, we could put a Central Park around NRG Stadium if we wanted to.  All I am saying is that the space is empty now, but we could turn it into an oasis of sorts.

It has to start with the Astrodome. All we need is a little imagination.  And maybe some money too. 

If they can build a ski resort in Dubai, we sure as heck can transform this wonderful gift of open space into something wonderful.  Look what Las Vegas did!!   So can we. 

The Marriott overlooking the San Antonio Riverwalk

The Hyatt overlooking the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Even with Texas Heat, a stroll along the San Antonio Riverwalk is very pleasant in the early morning.  We could have an outdoor Riverwalk as well someday in the Astrodome Oasis Complex.

   
   


The Canopy Walk at Moody Gardens

One idea I drew from my walk in the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid was their "Canopy Walk" up at the treetops.  

The Moody Gardens Canopy Walk reminded me of a much more rugged canopy walk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park using rope bridges that link giant fir trees.

I visualize that the Level Two Restaurants will extend one-third of the distance into the open space above the Riverwalk below.  If so, then find ways to utilize the area underneath the restaurants.

I would be sure to landscape the area below the restaurants as well as extend some of the canals directly underneath. 

So what about those giant support columns?  I assume those platforms will need to be supported by columns from below. 

Why not disguise those columns as giant trees? 

Those "trees" could be turned into a system of tree houses and those tree houses could be linked by a series of rope bridges.

Do you see the walkway above?  That is called a Canopy Walk.  That catwalk above gives an idea how a split level would work at the Houston Riverwalk. 

The idea of the Houston Riverwalk would be to allow people to WALK through the gardens of the ground floor as well as ride in the boats.   So why not make sure to have walkways at different levels??

Here is the impressive Canopy Walk at Capilano.  This tree is being used to support the bridge headed from one tree to the next.

Rope bridges are not particularly dangerous.  I saw plenty of children on these bridges.  If you are worried, then enclose them.

I don't care how old you are... Tree Houses are cool.

And tree houses with bridges are even more cool.

   


Galveston's Rainforest Cafe


Have you been to Galveston's lovely Rainforest Cafe

When Marla and I visited, I noticed four unique features. 

First, the Rainforest Cafe has jungle animals that come to life.  Great for kids; I like them too!

Second, the foliage inside the Rainforest Cafe is clearly artificial.  No one seems to mind.

Third, the Rainforest Cafe understands that a dining experience combined with an interesting view enhances the experience.

Fourth, there is an "Adventure River Ride" attached to the Rainforest Cafe.  Marla and I couldn't resist.  Very cool!!

In other words, my ideas for the Houston Riverwalk are already being used by restaurants and hotels.  Very ingenious!

Incidentally, I absolutely love the Rainforest Cafe.  Nice place.

This picture makes it clear that the leaves are artificial.  However, unless someone uses a flash, the greenery looks green to me.  No one seems to care that these trees have fake leaves.  Just keep the lighting subdued.

What people do enjoy is watching the animals come alive.   I don't know if the Houston populace wants to bring a little 'Disney' to the Riverwalk, but it doesn't seem like a bad idea if it isn't too noisy.

   

The Rainforest Cafe seems to understand that we all yearn for a little adventure.   I am not quite sure the Houston Riverwalk needs Disney effects to make its river more interesting, but the thought of a "Safari" theme for the Houston Riverwalk might be fun.  Just keep the animals quiet!!

On the other hand, maybe the tasteful blend of walkways, riverways, waterfalls, and foliage can do the trick.  I would prefer to make the view both scenic and romantic.   As far as I can tell, people enjoy the gondola rides in Venice and the flatboat rides at Gaylord Hotel just fine without the benefit of fake alligators. 

   


What would the Houston Riverwalk Look Like?


These pictures were taken at the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.  Out of curiosity, when was the last time you saw a waterfall here in Houston??  Probably not very recently.  How would you like to have a waterfall like this to visit?

What if I told you our Riverwalk could look like this?  Well, why not?  We have the technology to recreate this place.

The Astrodome ground floor will have a lot more room to play with than the Moody Gardens Pyramid or the Gaylord Hotel. 

The expanse in the picture above is less than 800 feet long.  I should know; I measured using Google Earth.

The Astrodome is 710 feet in diameter; that means each level is 2,230 feet in circumference.   If we chose to dedicate a third of our circumference to recreating that tableau above, we have enough room to do exactly that. 

We have enough room to duplicate any picture you like.  One of the great things about landscaping is the right to choose! 

We could literally wrap our waterfall around the ground floor to make a panorama and walkway just like the picture above. 

I assume you see that long walkway.  Our Astrodome Riverwalk will be just that... walkways that parallel the waterways, walkways that cross the waterways, walkways that weave in and out of forested areas. 

We can create our very own "National Park" right here on the Astrodome floor.  Personally, I don't care if the foliage is fake.   Almost all of Atlantis is fake and yet it is exquisitely beautiful.

As long as the water is real, this place will be stunning.  We can cross the lagoon, we can cross the waterfall, we can build bridges across the canals.  We can build our walkways as close to the water spray as people want. Let the walkways rise.  Let them fall.

Why not?  It isn't like there are crocodiles and piranhas to worry about if someone falls in.  It isn't like we have to worry about rock slides or flash floods.  This is a controlled environment.  

Let's build a Paradise right here on the Astrodome ground floor. Make this a place people want to come see!

We might want to improve the safety of our walkways a bit, but the thought of walking through this kind of beauty is exciting. 


Magic Mountain and Amazing Waterfall


There is no telling what our Magic Mountain will look like or the what the Amazing Waterfall will look like for that matter.  I say let's go for a modern version of the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon".

Let the source of the waterfall begin at the top.  Take the Magic Mountain all the way from the ground floor practically to the ceiling of the Astrodome.

Visualize that any floor of the Astrodome will resemble a round pizza.  By keeping one slice of the "pizza" open all the way to the top level, we can let the waterfall begin in the Skypark above. 

This means our Amazing Waterfall will be 200 feet high!!  That should be plenty to give us the world's tallest indoor waterfall.

By keeping the same slice of the pizza open at the Shopping Mall level, people will be able see the middle of the waterfall. 

Then at the Restaurant level, have the free falling waterfall hit a series of rocks to create a spreading waterfall effect.

Then let the water empty into a giant Lagoon. 

Later in my article I will discuss my desire to put a Labyrinth in the Skypark on the top level.  And I am going to recommend making that Labyrinth a serious challenge!

Since we all agree that everyone deserves a reward for solving a difficult puzzle, I say wrap the Labyrinth around the start of the Waterfall !!

If we put the Waterfall inside the Labyrinth, then by definition our waterfall becomes the Labyrinth Waterfall... or the "Amazing Waterfall" if you prefer.  There you have it!

One of my ideas for the Astrodome is to create a special place for romance.  Niagara Falls is famous as a romantic destination. 

Another ingredient for romance is privacy.  By hiding the source of the waterfall, we can guarantee safety from huge crowds. 

Oh, don't feel sorry for anyone.  A couple in love can see the waterfall at the bottom level without any trouble.  But to see the "Amazing" part, well, let them do some searching. 

If someone wants to see the start of the Amazing Waterfall up close, then let them solve the maze first!   The water seen in this picture will continue downward past the Shopping Mall all the way to the Riverwalk level.

Be still my beating heart!  The magnificent Plitvice Lakes, Croatia.  Why travel across the world?  Let's put this system of cascading waterfalls inside the Astrodome and save ourselves the trouble of traveling half the globe to see it in person. 

Glacier National Park.  Awesome. 

This Lagoon at Atlantis definitely qualifies as a perfect example of how beautiful a man-made lagoon can look.

   


Barcelona's Magic Fountain


Rick's Note:  Perhaps you are curious where I come up with all these ideas.  I am fortunate to have a wonderful wife who takes me on travel adventures all over the world.

Marla Archer is a Houston-based independent travel agent who specializes in forming groups to take cruise trips together. 

Traveling with groups of friends makes these adventures so much better.  When we take our excursions, we always have our friends beside us.  Not only do we enjoy the day together, our experiences make for interesting dinner conversations as we talk about the places we saw today and the places we will visit tomorrow.

Plus someone always has a story about a travel mishap to share.  On one trip, it was lost passports, on another getting lost in a giant Russian museum.  Something inevitably goes wrong and the group either tries to fix it or avoids letting it happen again.  

There was an incident in Barcelona where a group of gypsy thieves tried to steal a purse from a lady in our group.  The lady's friend saw it happen and screamed.  The gypsies fled.  This is a perfect example of the enhanced safety that comes from group travel,

At this point, Marla and I have been on 30 cruise trips.  At the end of each trip, I document what I thought was special about each place we visited.  I am in great debt to Marla for giving me all these great memories and experiences to draw upon.

Wherever I go, I take a look at what other cities have done to beautify their city and create attractions.  Envy becomes a real problem at times.  There are places I see that are so special my heart aches to have something like it back here in Houston.

Barcelona is definitely one of the cities that left me with great heartache. It is without a doubt my most favorite place we have ever visited (Paris and Rome are also very special). 
 

The Magic Fountain

One of the major attractions in Barcelona is the Magic Fountain.   Every night at a certain time, they play everything from pop music to beautiful classical music.  And the fountain dances along with the music.  Guess what?  The fountain isn't the only one dancing!

One night they played a Viennese Waltz.  On the spur of the moment, I asked Marla if she would like to dance.  I have fond memories of waltzing with Marla and watching the smiles on the faces of the people in the crowd. 

Every evening huge throngs of people gather to witness a spectacular show.  You don't suppose Houston could have a Magic Fountain of our own, do you?

If you have been following the bouncing ball, we will build a mountain in the Astrodome that takes up one quarter of the wall space (the restaurants take up the other three-quarters). 

Magic Mountain and Magic Waterfall

The Magic Mountain would start at the highest level of the Astrodome.  From the Magic Mountain would come the Magic Waterfall cascading downward to an elevated Lagoon

From the Lagoon would emanate a several streams working like bicycle spokes to create smaller waterfalls emptying into the canal system down at ground level.

At the edge of the Lagoon in the very center of the ground floor, I would imagine there is room for our very own Magic Fountain.

One important suggestion - put in a Plaza.  This would allow people to view the Fountain up close and it would give us a place to dance to the music as well. 

That's right... we have more than enough room on the ground floor of the Astrodome for both a Magic Fountain and a gathering Plaza around it.

If we make that Plaza large enough, I am pretty sure we could have the occasional public dance party.

I suppose we could persuade a live band to have an open air concert complete with dancing. 

Make it Salsa one night, Western the next, Sock Hop to follow, and a Ballroom Dance night as well.  Put some fake stars on the ceiling and light them up for the occasion so  we can dance under the stars!   Maybe we can even have a moon to go the stars.

The new purpose of the Astrodome is not just to attract tourists to our city, but to unite the people of our city just as the people of Barcelona is united by the Magic Fountain. 

Care to Twostep in the Astrodome? 

If we do the project right, the Astrodome could easily become our city's venue to host a gigantic block party. 

I would imagine the Astrodome could very easily become the place to be on New Year's Eve. 

Wherever I go, I think about ways that would make Houston special.

Dancing the Argentine Tango at a Buenos Aires plaza

Barcelona's fabulous Magic Fountain.  That beautiful fountain below is part of the "Fountain Circuit" in Lima, Peru.

This picture does not give justice to the size of the crowds.  People were lining steps and hills in the background to get a better view.  Look in the background and see the crowds walking on the side.

   


Barcelona's Las Ramblas

Houston will never have an outdoor "Las Ramblas" due to its heat and humidity. 

However, we could very easily have a "Las Ramblas" inside the Astrodome. 
The Astrodome could become a major urban center for all Houstonians.  
Get a band to play at a certain time of the evening and let's see what happens!


I spoke of how the Magic Fountain unites the people of Barcelona.  Another terrific feature of Barcelona is the wonderful 'Las Ramblas' walkway that stretches straight through the center of town. 

Talk about an ongoing block party!  That is the perfect description for La Rambla, a mile long street in central Barcelona that is incredibly popular with both tourists and locals alike.

The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said that Las Ramblas was "the only street in the world which I wish would never end."

Las Ramblas is a tree-lined pedestrian walkway that connects Plaça de Catalunya - a public park where music concerts are held in downtown - with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell.

Las Ramblas can be crowded, especially during the height of the tourist season. Its popularity with tourists has affected the character of the street, with a move to pavement cafes and souvenir kiosks.

There are no rides on Las Ramblas.  Nor are there any cars.  It is a long, unbroken chain of sidewalk cafes, street performers, and small stands selling artwork, flowers and gift items.  There are masked mimes wearing elaborate costumes who line the walkway hoping to get paid to pose with tourists.

The main attraction is the people-watching.  In my experience, Las Ramblas is a venue where people go to see other people.  It is a delightful place for a long walk. 

     


New York's Central Park


Many cities have a special gathering place and New York is no different.  Central Park is an urban park in the New York City borough of Manhattan.  Central Park is pretty famous; it is the most visited urban park in the United States.

Between 1821 and 1855, New York City nearly quadrupled in population. As the city expanded, people were drawn to the few existing open spaces, mainly cemeteries, to get away from the noise and chaotic life in the city.

A stylish place for open-air enjoyment similar to Paris' Bois de Boulogne or London's Hyde Park, became a common starting point for discussion among New Yorkers.  As people began to talk, New York City's need for a great public park was voiced first by William Cullen Bryant, the poet and editor of the Evening Post.  Then Andrew Jackson Downing,  the first American landscape architect, took up the city's need for a public park in 1844.

Over the years, Central Park has grown to become a unifying point for the entire city.

Like many parks found in the larger cities of the world – think Hyde Park in London and Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris – Central Park is akin to an oasis.  Located in the middle of an otherwise built up urban grid, the park brings about a sense of peace as soon as you step within its perimeter.

Never mind the thousands of residents and tourists who descend upon it on any given day – whether it be for relaxation, to visit its Zoo or to skate the Wollman Rink – there are parts you will come across, where you’ll feel as if you’re the only one there. -- Marina Chetner
 

Thank you Central Park for letting us and so many others spend so many wonderful years in your arms. 
--  Tillie and Charlie Goldman

 


Houston Could Use a Central Park


Rick Archer's Note:
 

It isn't just that Houston has little to attract tourists.  We don't have much to unite us as fellow Houstonians either.  

Thanks to our heat, it is very difficult for any large group to ever gather outside.

Other cities are fortunate to not have this problem. 

New York has Central Park to bring people together.  Memorial Park is certainly no match for New York's Central Park or Vancouver's Stanley Park simply because Houston heat makes casual visits unbearable.  There might be a couple weekends in the spring and fall where Memorial Park is useful for an art festival, but certainly not on a year-round basis.

There certainly is no Magic Fountain or Ramblas walkway where Houstonians can rub shoulders on a a daily basis.

Nor do we have a Seine River like Paris where thousands of people walk along the banks and bridges on a daily basis.

Nor do we have a Riverwalk like San Antonio where thousands of people stroll along every evening with their margaritas and stay for dinner.

Thanks to our inhospitable climate, any Houston outdoor party is plagued by heat and mosquitoes.  Yes, we do have a place like Miller Theater, but you have to be pretty tough to spend an evening there most of the year.

I am at a loss to understand why no one has proposed using the Houston Astrodome as a place for the people of our city to come together on a frequent basis.  To me, using the Astrodome in this way seems like an obvious idea. 

Yes, I am sure my ideas come with a price tag, but I hope I have sufficiently explained that there are definite benefits to Houston image-wise, economically, and as a way to boost our sense of civic pride.  

I think the Astrodome Project is as important as any issue that has ever confronted this city.

 
 
   


The Riverwalk Concept Illustrated

The Astrodome is 208 feet tall.  This height will allow the Dome to be subdivided into four levels.  Level One will be the Ground Floor.

Level Two will consist of a halo-like ring of restaurants.  They will rest on platforms that will project outward over 1/3rd of the Ground Floor.

 
 
   
   

Walkways will be added, bridges will cross rivers, and everything gets terraced and landscaped to create a lush atrium effect. 

   
   


Third Level Shopping Mall


I do not know how much Astrodome space could be dedicated to retail, but I would imagine with 18 stories at hand, at least 2 or 3 stories could be set aside for stores, perhaps more.

If memory serves, there are not many retail stores on the San Antonio Riverwalk.  I do recall a very busy convenience store that sold a little bit of everything from aspirin, lotion, food, wine and beer to duct tape and band aids.  I am sure a convenience store would fare quite well. 

I would imagine a Cinema would do extremely well at a location like this.  Dinner and a movie is a time-honored tradition.  How about a romantic stroll in the upstairs Skypark afterwards?

I would imagine a gift shop would do well.  I would imagine some of the fashionable clothing stores would do well.  I would imagine a jewelry store would do well here.

It is not my desire to turn the Astrodome into a shopping mall.  However, with the kind of traffic one would hope for, it seems natural to encourage the same sort of retail as one might find at a fashionable hotel. 

It would make sense to attract business people and groups of friends to this place daily.  Shop, talk business, go for a walk without getting terribly sweaty... sounds like a plan.

If I had some money to invest, I would consider putting in a Country-Western dance club as well. I bet it would take off.

I will let someone else worry about designing a shopping mall.

   
   


Level 4: The Amazing Houston Astrodome


At the very top of the Astrodome, I propose putting in a vast garden and rainforest.  I will get to this idea in more detail shortly.

At the far edge of that garden where the Waterfall begins, I say add an intricate maze.   I would make the maze a real challenge, something that would make people around the world curious to see if they could solve it or not! 

I would reward their successful efforts with a close-up view of the Waterfall.

Imagine the thrill of getting your picture taken at the Solution stage of the maze with the Waterfall behind to prove you solved the puzzle!

In addition, at the Solution center of our maze, I would put a lovely gazebo surrounded by fountains and statues. 

One of Houston's problems on the world and national stage is that it lacks an identity or an 'icon' if you prefer.   

London has Big Ben.  Paris has the Eiffel Tower.  Rome has the Colosseum.  Barcelona has the Sagrada Cathedral.  Dubai has the Burj al Arab Hotel.  Los Angeles has Hollywood.  San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge.  New York has the Empire State Building.

If Houston wishes to become a player on the world stage, Houston needs a structure that the world can readily identify with.

I would think that a picture of the Skypark Labyrinth with the mountain and start of the waterfall in the background would make for a very serious iconic image. 

That image would be unlined by a slogan.


"Houston, It's Amazing!!"

I think that is an excellent marketing slogan for our city. 

However, there is a catch.  The problem with slogans is that they have to mean something. 

For example, Greenland isn't exactly green.  And Detroit's "tallest waterfall in the world" is little better than letting a hose drip from your roof.  If Houston wants to be amazing, then first we have to do something to make Houston AMAZING!   

Every idea I have suggested in my article about the Astrodome is largely copied from somewhere else.


It would help to have one original idea.


Before I say another word, there is something you need to know.

There are no large-scale INDOOR MAZES in the world.  

Wouldn't it be nice to be 'unique' for a change, not a 'copycat'?

If we build a maze in the Astrodome, Houston would do something no one else has tried on a grand scale. 

Most people are not particularly interested in mazes, so now I am going to explain why I think mazes are fascinating.

   


The History of Mazes

 
 


While we are deciding whether to build a maze inside the Astrodome, let's begin by familiarizing ourselves with the history.

The first recorded maze in history was the Egyptian Labyrinth.  Herodotus, a Greek traveler and writer, visited the Egyptian Labyrinth in the 5th century, BC. The building was located just above Lake Moeris and opposite the city of the crocodiles (Crocodilopolis). Herodotus was very impressed, stating:

"I found it greater than words could tell, for although the temple at Ephesus and that at Samos are celebrated works, yet all the works and buildings of the Greeks put together would certainly be inferior to this labyrinth as regards labor and expense."

Herodotus added that even the pyramids were surpassed by the Egyptian Labyrinth.  Much of this pyramid still stood in 1700, but unfortunately very little remains today.

Of course the Greeks were familiar with mazes.  Their myth known as "Theseus and the Minotaur" is the most famous story about a maze of all time. 

According to Greek Mythology, King Minos had Daedalus, his architect, design a maze to house and contain the monster known as the Minotaur. 

The Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary builder Daedalus at Knossos where the palace of King Minos was located on the island of Crete.

Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a mythical creature that was half man and half bull. There was a dark secret behind the origin of the bull, but I will spare the reader.  That said, if you have a morbid streak, click Minos and search for 'zoophilia'.

Minos wanted to kill the abominable beast, but the God Poseidon would have surely ended Minos' life on the spot. 

Suffice it to say Minos didn't want anyone to know where this monster came from, so his next best option was to hide the beast instead.  So he ordered Daedalus to build a complicated chamber with many tangled windings.  Daedalus called it the Labyrinth.

When it was finished, Daedalus was in for a rude surprise.  To his dismay, Minos was determined that no one ever know the secret of who the Minotaur was or how to get out of the Labyrinth. 

Daedalus and his son Icarus found themselves imprisoned in the maze along with the monster.  Daedalus and Icarus had a room to themselves to avoid the monster, but others weren't so fortunate.

The monster needed to be fed.  King Minos of Crete kept the monster happy by tossing criminals, corpses, and enemies down a shaft that led to the depths below.  Minos also had a cruel streak.  He had waged a successful war against Athens.  He demanded as tribute that seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls be sent to Crete at nine-year intervals.  He served these youths to the monster as well.

The secret got back to Athens that the children were being devoured by the Minotaur.  On the third occasion, Theseus, son of the king, volunteered to attempt to slay the monster and put an end this horror.  Considering he would likely be forced to go into the maze unarmed, his chances of survival were slim indeed.  Reluctantly, his father the king of Athens allowed his brave son to be one of the unlucky fourteen.

On his arrival in Crete, Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, fell in love with Theseus.  She could not bear the thought that this brave and handsome young man would die so senselessly.  So she went to Daedalus and asked his advice. 

Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it himself after he built it.  Daedalus suggested that Ariadne help Theseus by means of a skein of thread, literally the "clew", or "clue", so that the lad could find his way out again.

That night, Ariadne escorted Theseus to the Labyrinth.  After Theseus promised that he would take Ariadne home to Athens with him in return for her help, Ariadne handed him a ball of thread and a sword.  Now Theseus had a fighting chance to not only kill the Minotaur, but to actually find his way back out.

As soon as Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the ball of string to the door post and brandished his sword which he had kept hidden from the guards inside his tunic.

Theseus followed Daedalus' instructions given to Ariadne: go forwards, always down and never left or right. Theseus came to the heart of the Labyrinth and found the sleeping Minotaur.

The beast awoke and a tremendous fight occurred. Theseus dodged the Minotaur with his quickness.  He stabbed the beast in the throat with his sword as the monster lurched past.  

After decapitating the beast, Theseus used the string to retrace his steps.  He managed to escape with all of the young Athenians and Ariadne as well as her younger sister Phaedra.

The escape of Theseus inadvertently led to the famous Myth of Icarus.  Daedalus knew that Minos would have his head for aiding Ariadne.  It was time to escape. 

Daedalus and Icarus flew away on wings Daedalus invented.  Before taking flight, Daedalus warned Icarus to be careful not to fly too low lest sea dampness clog the feathers of the wings nor too high lest the sun melt the wax holding the feathers in place.

Like many teenage boys, Icarus didn't listen.  He had so much fun flying that he indeed flew too close to the sun.  As his wings disintegrated, Icarus plunged to his death in the sea below. 

Labyrinths became extremely popular with European royalty in the 18th and 19th century.  The royals not only enjoyed the beauty of having an extensive garden, they realized that beautiful gardens were a huge status symbol. 

The biggest "garden" status symbol was to turn their garden into a maze.  Naturally the king looked for ways to amuse his guests, so watching the visitors get lost in the complicated hedge mazes of the gardens was always a source of fun.

One of the best royal mazes was the Labyrinth of Versailles

This maze was so special that my guide Costigan made a point to show me where it had once been located when I visited Versailles in April 2014. 

The Labyrinth of Versailles was a hedge maze in the Gardens of Versailles.  This Labyrinth included groups of fountains and sculptures depicting Aesop's fables. 

Louis XIV, the fabled Sun King, decided to include 39 fountains, each representing a well-known fable of Aesop.

Created by André Le Nôtre, this labyrinth became intensely popular.  Not only did the King and the young Dauphin love their maze, but typically visiting nobility and gentry immediately requested permission to visit the garden. 

The labyrinth contributed greatly to the wonder that the Gardens of Versailles instilled in visitors and diplomats from abroad.

An illustrated guide printed in Amsterdam in 1682 praised Le Nôtre's work saying,

"Amongst all these works there is nothing more admirable and praiseworthy than the Royal Garden at Versailles, and, in it, the Labyrinth... the Turnings and Windings, edged on both sides with green cropped hedges, are not at all tedious, by reason that at every hand there are figures and water-works representing the mysterious and instructive fables of Aesop".

I would like the reader to keep the Labyrinth of Versailles in mind.  I have proposed putting a simple walking maze in the uppermost level of the Astrodome where the strong lighting would allow a rainforest similar to Moody Gardens and the Gaylord Hotel to be installed.  Rather than make this maze difficult, I would model it on an easier format.  I will get back to this idea shortly.

No doubt the Labyrinth of Versailles was more decorative than deceiving.  Many of the later Royal Mazes became more intricate. 

Il Labirinto is said to be one of the most complicated labyrinths in the world.  Created in 1720, Il Labirinto is located at Villa Pisani in the town of Stra, a suburb on the outskirts of Venice.

Since almost every tourist to Italy gets lost eventually, here at this famous Venetian Labyrinth you can do it deliberately.  And when I say LOST, I mean LOST.

Il Labirinto has the reputation for being the most difficult maze in the world to solve. Even Napoleon was floored by the challenge when he gave it a try in 1807. Part of the problem is the height. The hedges, which form nine concentric rings, are too high for anyone to peek over.  Poor Napoleon may have been a genius, but he was much too short to cheat.

You get a perfect view only once you've figured your way through to the center and ascended a spiral staircase to a turret.

People love challenges.  There are no indoor mazes in the world.  Why not finally put the Astrodome to good use?  The Astrodome would become synonymous for one of the most unique experiences in the world.  If Napoleon was curious enough to try the famous maze of Venice, one can imagine that many visitors to Houston would feel the same way. 

The Maze at Hampton Court is located at the royal palace on the Thames to the west of London.  This maze is the United Kingdom's most famous outdoor puzzle.

Planted as part of the gardens laid out for William of Orange between 1689 and 1695 by George London and Henry Wise, it covers an area of a third of an acre.

Although it is not a particularly difficult maze to solve, Hampton Court Maze continues to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

For Londoners, the Hampton Court palace maze on the Thames just outside the city is a rite of passage for all children. It is a place their parents brought them to test their orientation skills.

People love mazes, especially if it is well done.  Take a look at the crowds lined up to enjoy London's Hampton Court Maze.  There are people lined up awaiting their chance to solve it.  

From above, the Hampton Court Maze doesn't look too tough. 

Tell that to the people who have just hit a dead end.  They are going to have to retrace all their steps.  Then they are going to have to be careful they recognize where they made their mistake if they pass this way again. 

Most people have no idea what it is like to get lost inside an actual maze.  It is one thing to stare down at a maze in a puzzle book full of confusing, intricate and winding pathways. 

For one thing, at a glance from above, the blind alleys in a puzzle book are very easy to spot.

For another thing, with a puzzle book, you can use a pencil to trace your path and mark where you have been before. 

No such luck with a hedge maze. 

In a maze where the walls are higher than eye-level, even the simplest maze isn't nearly as easy as one might think. 

For example, whenever I visit the Texas Renaissance Festival, I always make a pilgrimage to the relatively easy maze they have there.  For a few dollars, I get the privilege of wandering around aimlessly for ten to fifteen minutes till I solve the puzzle.

I get a kick out of the TRI maze.  Their maze reminds me of the maze I used to make for Halloween at my dance studio.  I hung black curtains from the ceiling; they use purple curtains to force people to wander around.  As a temporary maze goes, it works!

Someday I would love to try a really tough maze.  Nor do I think I am alone.  If the Houston Maze is done right, I bet a lot of people would like to have a crack at solving a really tough puzzle!

Once you can't see where you are going, it is very easy to get lost.  Just hit the same blind alley a few times and one begins to wonder maybe this adventure isn't such a great idea.  

Hey, I want the full "Alice in Wonderland" experience!!

Alice:  Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don't much care where.

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.

Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.

The Cheshire Cat:  Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.   

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In the old days, only the Royals had their fancy hedge mazes. 

Today some of the most difficult mazes in the world are now found out in the American countryside.  Out in the country, first they spend all summer raising a corn field. Then when the crop is ready, the mazes are cut out of the corn field.

One person wrote of about his corn maze adventure:

"I loved it, because it was an intellectual challenge that physically swallowed me up.   When I work a puzzle on paper, I am contesting the game from outside the playing field—as if I were an aloof scientist observing the rats in an experiment or a giant Gulliver towering over the Lilliputians.

But when I walk into a maze, I am playing the game from the inside— now I am the rat in the labyrinth.  Am I clever enough to figure this out?"

From all accounts, people flock to the corn mazes when they are ready. Apparently Americans enjoy solving a labyrinth.

I have never been in one of the major league "corn mazes".  They are nowhere near as attractive as the hedge mazes, but they have quite a reputation for getting people quite lost.

Most people solve these large corn mazes in 30 minutes to an hour, but some people get hopelessly stuck.  Here is an interesting story of a couple who got completely lost in 2011.

"Getting lost in a corn maze is supposed to be fun.

But it turned into a nightmare for a Massachusetts couple who got so lost that they had to be rescued by the police.

It all started late Monday afternoon, when the couple entered a corn maze at Connors Farm in Danvers, Massachusetts, about 23 miles north of Boston.

After about an hour in the maze, darkness began to fall. The couple, who were there with their 3-week-old baby, were unable to find a way out. As the mosquitoes started to descend, they placed a desperate call to 911 asking to be rescued.

The Danvers police released audio of the call.  Here's an edited transcript:

Woman in tears: Hi, I just called. I'm still stuck at Connors Farms. I don't see anybody. I'm really scared. It's really dark and we've got a 3-week-old.

Police officer: Your husband is with you?

Woman: Yes. But my baby...

Police officer: A police officer is on the way. Can you put your husband on the phone?

Husband: I see lights over there at the place, but we can't get there, we're smack right in the middle of the corn field.

Woman: I don't know what made us do this, it was daytime when we came in, we thought if we came in someone would come in and find us... We can hear [the police officers]... Oh, my goodness.

The mosquitoes are eating us alive, and I never took my daughter out, this is the first time.  Never again.

Woman: This is so embarrassing.

By the end of the seven-minute call, a K-9 unit had found the couple (apparently dogs are better at mazes than humans).

Kamille Combs, marketing director for the Utah-based company the Maize, which designed the Connors Farm maze, said the company's average corn maze is 8 to 10 acres and that it takes the average person 45 minutes to complete the maze.

Ms. Combs said the company usually breaks its mazes into three different phases -- "because some people want that ultimate challenge, and others are happy after 20 minutes."

Ms. Combs added that she had never heard of someone needing to be rescued by the police from a corn maze before."


No movie has ever captured the terror of a maze quite like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.  Working off an amazing story written by Stephen King, Kubrick was masterful in telling the story about a man's descent into madness while working in isolation at resort cut off from the world by winter.

I was surprised to find the hedge maze featured in The Shining was created specifically for the movie.  The maze was constructed on an airfield near Elstree Studios. It was made by weaving branches to chicken wire mounted on empty plywood boxes.

The 'making-of-the-movie' documentary shot by Vivian Kubrick shows that the hedge maze set was large and complex enough to require a detailed map.   In the commentary for her documentary, she notes that many crew members got lost every day in the maze.

"Stanley Kubrick, the director of The Shining, was fascinated with mazes and couldn't wait to build one of his very own.  He probably did a better job than was necessary. 

Kubrick kept an exacting overhead view map of the maze which was used to get in and out and to plan shots.

Copies of the map were given to the crew who nevertheless continued to get lost throughout the production.

Garrett Brown, the steadicam operator, recalled that if one of the crew got lost and made the mistake of calling out for help, Kubrick's maniacal laughter seemed to come out from all directions at once.

I know you want to try it.  30 seconds tops!

A look at the extensive Gardens of Versailles today.  Unfortunately, the Labyrinth of Versailles no longer exists.

Each circle represents where the fountains were located.  No doubt you are curious, so I will reveal that Louis XVI, husband of Marie Antoinette, was responsible for having it removed.  What a shame. 

Il Labirinto in Venice was so tough that Napoleon couldn't solve it!

Hampton Court in London.  Each Yellow X signifies a dead end.  No doubt there are other dead ends hidden under those two trees

The Texas Renaissance Festival Maze

Kaeser Memorial Maze at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

One of the most famous corn mazes is the Davis Mega Maze in Sterling, Massachusetts.  Notice the grinning goblin in the center.  One can assume that goblin is the final destination.

This particular Davis Maze features a murder mystery. 

Longleat Maze is located 100 miles southwest of London.   It takes around 90 minutes to solve this puzzle.

People would look at each other and shake their heads.

Everyone began to wonder who was more nuts - Nicholson or Kubrick."

Danny and Wendy tour The Shining maze. 

How would you like to meet this guy in your maze? 

   


Paris, the Most Romantic City in the World

If there is one thing Paris has in abundance, it is physical beauty.  Paris is a unique combination of elaborate parks, bridges, statues, fountains, the Seine River and tasteful architecture.

Everything is so tastefully done.  There is a sense of style and beauty that has made Paris the worldwide symbol of romance.

I have visited Paris twice.  If you are interested in seeing what Paris looks like, here are three stories about my visits.

Paris 2010 Versailles 2014 Paris 2014

As you will see, Paris holds a tremendous grip on my imagination. In fact, my 2010 trip to Paris is the main reason I have decided to write this article about the "Astrodome Project".

Both times when I visited Paris, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of envy.  Amidst so much beauty, I could not help but wish my own city could have just a touch of the magic that Paris possesses. 

St. Augustine once famously said,

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."

Alan Fox is a friend who runs a Houston travel agency.  It was Alan who got me to take that fateful cruise where I met my wife Marla. In one of his travel stories, Alan wrote something similar: 

"To me, the world is more like a puzzle.  If we do not travel, we see only one piece.

Seeing how people in other cities and other countries approach their appearance can be a real eye-opener.  Paris had exactly that effect on me.  I came away from Paris thinking that Houston could really benefit from a touch of Paris-style Beauty and Romance.

"We will always have Paris."  - - Rick to Ilsa in Casablanca


Paris - A Worldwide Icon of Beauty

   
It was my first visit to Paris in 2010 that absolutely crushed me.

It was on this trip that I realized just how far Houston had to go to take its place among the great cities of the world. 

Back in 2002, I volunteered to help bring the 2012 Olympics to Houston.  I was told it was a bit of a long-shot for an American city to have a good chance to win this bid since Atlanta had recently hosted the Olympics in 1996.

I didn't know if Houston would win the final Olympic bid or not, but I was certain Houston was at least the finest "American city" to host the Olympics in case the committee wanted to return the Summer Games to the USA.

Look at things from my perspective. Back in 2002, Houston had just completed or was about to complete all the fine sports facilities we have such as Reliant Stadium, Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center. And we had the Astrodome to host other events.

In my mind, Houston had it all. 

Not only did we have all these great stadiums, we had a new monorail system that connected all the facilities into one nice line.

Any visitor to the Houston Olympics could use our new monorail to whisk them from one venue to another.

I assumed Houston was a virtual LOCK to sew up America's bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that New York and San Francisco were selected ahead of Houston. 

Not only was Houston unable to beat the great cities of the world, it couldn't even beat the cities in its own country!!

I was shocked.  Why had Houston done so poorly?

As I found out, Houston never had a chance.  Houston didn't even come close. 
San Francisco and New York had both placed far ahead of my hometown. 

I asked one of the men on the organizing committee why he thought Houston was an also-ran.  His answer:

"Everyone I talked to from the other cities agreed that physically (stadium-wise) Houston was the prime candidate.  But the fear was that the world would simply refuse to come here.  The climate was a major concern, but the real killer was the lack of attractions.  In their opinion, Houston had nothing to do or see that was any fun.  There was another problem too.  No one would come out and it say it, but I got the impression that when compared to other cities, they think Houston is pretty ugly."

I heard what he said, but I didn't quite get itHouston had by far the finest facilities necessary.  Wasn't that what a city needed to host the Olympics?  But based on the results, it didn't seem like anyone was interested in my city.

As it turned out, the 2012 Olympics went to London.  Paris finished a close second in the bidding.  It was not until I began to visit cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona that I finally figured out what Houston's problem is.  

Did you know that "Beauty and the Beast" is a French fairy tale? 

If Paris is the Beauty, then Houston is the Concrete Beast.

 


2002: The San Francisco Chronicle Story


My acquaintance on the Houston Olympic Committee had whispered these words:


"Compared to other cities,
Houston is
pretty ugly."

No one in the Houston Chronicle would dream of printing that.  However, to my surprise, a sports writer in a San Francisco newspaper had no problem saying it.   Here is a reprint of a 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Now you will get a chance to see what people from other American cities really think about Houston.
 


Hey Houston... Better luck next time!

Ken Garcia, San Francisco Chronicle
Published Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Houston's Olympics bid had it all -- except a sellable city

There's no denying that San Francisco's politics are a joke. The city's streets are a mess, its real estate prices are laughable, the city is congested, and it's hardly commuter-friendly.

But even with all its bureaucratic bungling and aging blemishes, San Francisco is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  And more important, it's not Houston.

This undeniable fact was not lost on the U.S. Olympic Committee task force that selected San Francisco and New York as the finalists to be the U.S. candidate for hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics. And it underscores what so many cities over time have learned in trying to chip at the stature of San Francisco and belittle its standing as a world-class tourist destination:  better luck next time.

For years, cities from Toronto to Tampa Bay have tried to convince big city officials and big league teams that San Francisco was somehow becoming second-rate. As they would say, Frisco is still pretty as a postcard, but definitely on the decline.

While longtime residents here might agree with that assessment, when neutral observers asked visitors which city they'd rather spend time in, somehow Houston, Dallas, St. Petersburg and Pittsburgh don't make the list.

When it comes to the Houstons of the world, it's not even close.

A certain civic sneer emerges on the countenance of other city officials when San Francisco is mentioned in any capacity, an uncontrollable impulse based on the town's reputation for wackiness, openness and outrageousness. But often lost on them is the City by the Bay's elegance, sophistication and hard-earned ability to cater to the most cosmopolitan tastes and attitudes.

Our city has qualities that towns like Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento have learned to accept about San Francisco over time. Our competitors note San Francisco's superior attractiveness. They do so with reluctance and with envy-induced hostility at times, but still without question.

So it's rather amusing that second-tier towns like Houston continue to huff and puff when they get left at the threshold when competing against the San Franciscos of the world... or for that matter, the likes of London and Paris and New York.

Houston is definitely big, admittedly super-sized in a Texas-Astrodome-LBJ kind of way. And according to those involved in the Olympic hosting competition, Houston had the most technically and financially sound bid among the municipal hopefuls.

Houston only had one problem.  It's Houston.

"They can crunch the numbers, spin the truth and do more recounting of the votes than the state of Florida, and it always comes back to one point," wrote Houston Chronicle columnist Fran Blinebury, echoing the sentiment of the town's official delegation.  "Image is everything.  In the end, the 10 deciding members of the USOC task force voted with their hearts and their digital cameras instead of their heads."

Blinebury's commentary came on the heels of another Houston sports scribe, John P. Lopez. Lopez claimed that without all of its pizzazz and sexiness and popularity and allure, San Francisco wouldn't even stand a chance.

And he's right. For without all of those traits, San Francisco would be Houston. With better weather.

This last point should not be ignored because in the minds of Houston officials, their town's hell-like summertime heat was a major reason for elimination. They tried to dodge that perceived problem by offering up a plan showcasing an "air-conditioned Games" theme. Which is to say, "We hope you like your marathons indoors."

Yet reality suggests that weather played but a small role in the U.S. Olympic Committee's determination. After all, Atlanta was a sticky, furnace-like host to the 1996 Olympics. Nor did the heat stop officials from selecting Athens for the upcoming 2004 Games.

We can only assume the heat is a lame excuse for Houston. Maybe the committee really did want an internationally renowned city and a perennial top draw for tourists worldwide. If so, tough luck, Houston.

Perhaps Houston was so desperate to put itself on the global events map that it chose to overlook the boring flat-terrain flood basin where it is located.

Instead the USA Olympic committee saw San Francisco, with its lovely hills and bridges and cable cars, as the perfect accent to a colorful, dynamic region that happens to include beautiful sports arenas from San Francisco to San Jose to Sacramento.

"I guess my idea of an international city and the USOC's just isn't the same," said Houston 2012 Foundation Chairman George DeMontrond III after the setback. 

Houston is the home of NASA, so we'll forgive DeMontrond for getting lost in space.

For all those civic wannabes in Houston who like to think their city's stock is now on par with the likes of New York and San Francisco, it helps to remember the small things.

The 110-degrees-in-the-shade concept is a sure brochure bouncer.

And oil refineries may be a great boost to the local economy, but smoke and haze and skylines full of petrochemical plants don't exactly send Europeans racing to their travel agents.

The good people of Houston will accept this over time, just like all the other cities have when they try to pass themselves off as San Francisco or Paris.

Speaking of Paris, that would be the one in Europe, not the one in Texas.
 

 


Rick Archer's Take on the Examiner Article


That 2002 San Francisco article is without a doubt the nastiest public insult towards Houston I have ever come across.

It is one thing to think those thoughts privately, but to post them in print is something else.  The writer clearly enjoyed rubbing Houston's nose in what he considered to be our mediocrity.

Unfortunately, that nasty reality-check may be exactly what Houston needs to start putting its house in order.

Maybe it is time we took a good look at our city.

Anyone driving to Washington DC from Dulles Airport sees nothing but the stunning Northern Virginia forest lining the freeway. 

Not Houston.  Take a look at the billboards on I-45, then stop and wonder what out-of-town guests coming in from Houston Intercontinental must think.  Not a pretty first impression. 

Now you know why I was so depressed during my 2010 walk through Paris.  Not a free-standing billboard in sight. 

This visit to Paris was a real eye-opener for me.  It showed me that Houston has some serious work to do to catch up to the great cities of the world. 

So now it is 2014 and we Houstonians have an enormous issue confronting us.  We now know that the Texans and the Houston Rodeo, organizations run by some the most powerful people in Houston, want to demolish the Astrodome. 

No one else will admit they want to tear down the Astrodome, but on the other hand, no one has made much of an effort to make any practical suggestions, have they?

Let me remind all of you - they wanted to get rid of that bend in the river over in San Antonio.  Once they covered that river bend with some concrete, it was supposed to make for some really good new streets.  Then somebody stepped forward and suggested maybe that riverbend could come in handy in other ways someday.

That Riverbend became San Antonio's Riverwalk.

Over in Vancouver, they had a bunch of trees taking up a really good piece of real estate.  If its one thing they have in Vancouver, it's plenty of trees.  Why not knock down these trees and expand downtown.  Why build some more skyscrapers over there?

That useless bunch of trees became Vancouver's Stanley Park. 

Now they want to spend $29 million dollars to knock down the Astrodome and create an even bigger parking lot.  Or $66 million to create a decent burial site.  Anything to get rid of the place!!

I swear, if we knock this thing down, can you even begin imagine how the rest of the world will chortle at our complete ignorance? 

San Antonio has the Alamo and the River WalkAustin has hills, lakes, and rivers in abundance.  Dallas is far more glamorous than Houston thanks to the Cowboys and JR Ewing.

Meanwhile all Houston does is endlessly widen its freeways, cut down more trees, put up more billboards, and destroy Astroworld and Waterworld.  Houston has no concept of zoning and our idea of urban beautification is to line our bayous with concrete.

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Houston has the beer can house.

Have I made my point?

I would say the Astrodome is down to its last chance.  Are we going to continue to feel sorry for ourselves and wallow in apathy or are we going to step up and do something special? 

The beautiful George Washington Parkway in Northern Virginia connects the airport to our nation's capital.  This panorama is what people first see on their way into D.C.

This is just one of countless billboards on I-45.  This embarrassing array of billboards serves as our "Welcome to Houston" message. 

On the one hand it is funny, but in a town clearly lacking for beauty, Houston's Beer Can House seems a fitting symbol.  To the world, it makes us look like a city of hicks.

 


Perhaps Houston was so desperate to put itself on the global events map that it chose to overlook the boring flat-terrain flood basin where it is located.  -- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

 


So it's rather amusing that second-tier towns like Houston continue to huff and puff when they get left at the threshold when competing against the San Franciscos of the world... or for that matter, the likes of London and Paris and New York.

-- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

 


For all those civic wannabes in Houston who like to think their city's stock is now on par with the likes of New York and San Francisco, it helps to remember the small things.  The 110-degrees-in-the-shade concept is a sure brochure bouncer.

And oil refineries may be a great boost to the local economy, but smoke and haze and skylines full of petrochemical plants don't exactly send Europeans racing to their travel agents.

The good people of Houston will accept this over time, just like all the other cities have when they try to pass themselves off as San Francisco or Paris.

-- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

 


Upper Level:  The Houston SkyPark


Houston is seriously challenged when it comes to physical beauty.

Houston does not have a Vancouver Bay.

Houston does not have a San Francisco Bay. 

Nor does Houston have the lovely hills, beautiful bridges and charming cable cars that San Francisco is famous for.  

Houston does not have a river to compare to Paris' Seine.

Houston does not have a 'Las Ramblas' by which to charm thousands of people on a daily basis.

We do have a lovely park, but the heat and mosquitoes remove any possibility of Memorial becoming a romantic destination.

That said, we do not need to hang our head.  

Houston may not be San Francisco, Barcelona, Vancouver or Paris, but that doesn't mean we have to lose our pride and allow our city to become the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

If we want people to come visit our city, then let's start making our city more attractive!

We have to accept our limitations and maximize our strengths.

What we do have is a dynamic, rapidly-growing city that is an economic powerhouse.  Our city can well afford to make itself more beautiful if we put our mind to it. 

My concept for the ground floor of the Astrodome is to create an unusual indoor Riverwalk featuring spectacular beauty.

For our final feature, let's make the roof of the Astrodome a quiet, tasteful Park in the Sky.  

Let's call it the Houston SkyPark.

To make the Skypark famous, I suggest we create an intriguing maze for the center, a puzzle clever enough to stump Napoleon.

The Houston Skypark will be Houston's answer to Vancouver's Stanley Park.

The Houston Skypark will be Houston's answer to New York's Central Park. 

The Houston Skypark will be Houston's answer to Barcelona's Las Ramblas. 

The Houston Skypark will be Houston's answer to the Tuileries, a famous park of Paris.

Houston could really use a romantic place to visit.

There is nothing more romantic than a beautiful park, especially when it is suspended 200 feet in the sky!

Let's create our very own highly romantic world-class park. 

Let's make some 'beauty' of our own.

You scoff.  After all, plastic plants can go just so far. 

I am not talking about plastic plants.  That was downstairs.  This is upstairs.  The upstairs part of the Dome has windows!  

Did you know that the Astrodome has abundant sunlight? 

Longtime Houstonians might be surprised to learn that sunlight can enter the Astrodome just fine. 

The original plan was to let in sunlight in through the Dome roof to grow grass just like any other ballpark.  The problem was that the sunlight was so powerful at the top that any athlete looking up to catch a fly ball was blinded.

So they painted over the roof and installed Astroturf to cope with the dead grass. 

My guess is that if they un-paint the roof, then the upper level of the Astrodome will respond just like an atrium.

Let's emulate Moody Gardens and put a Rainforest up there... but no ordinary rainforest.  

I say make the Astrodome Rainforest as romantic as we possibly can.  Gazebos.  Fountains.  Maybe even a gentle stream with fish and some gentle waterfalls. 

If we make the ground floor the busiest place in town, how about putting the most Romantic spot in the city up at the top?

Make it an indoor park for people who want to walk inside a perfect controlled environment surrounded by immense natural beauty. 

The Houston SkyPark will become Houston's answer to the beauty of the other great parks of the world. 

With this move, Houston can have a park to rival Stanley Park (Vancouver), Central Park (New York), Las Ramblas (Barcelona), and the Tuleries (Paris).

No heat, no rain, no humidity, no bugs.  Just beauty.

Houston will have its very own world-class garden.

Houston will have a place for lovers to go. 

Create a rainforest.  I am sure the pyramid at Moody Gardens could provide an excellent model.  Add small waterfalls and a moving stream complete with fish. 

Add sidewalk cafes... we don't have sidewalk cafes in Houston for an obvious reason (and we know what that reason is!) 

Wouldn't it be nice to have a place cool enough for open air sidewalk cafes like they have in Europe? 

This tasteful environment could very easily become yet another Houston response to San Antonio's highly successful Riverwalk. 

The important thing is to make the SkyPark a place where anyone who visits Houston would definitely like to come see.

Half the fun of a lovely park is having a place where people can meet.

If the setting is beautiful, then a sidewalk cafe becomes the perfect spot to meet with a friend or sit and people watch. 

 


Japanese Garden

I would strongly suggest putting a Japanese Garden inside the Houston Skypark

As it turns out, Houston already has one very lovely Japanese Garden in Hermann Park.  You can find it across the street from Rice University.  Where do you suppose I got my idea?

The Japanese seem to have a genius for blending wood, water, rocks, flowers, shrubs and trees into a unified whole.  The way they balance these different elements together and add color is truly a work of art.

In particular, a Japanese Garden always features tasteful woodwork such as a delicate bridge, an unusual design, and small platforms that allow one to carefully cross water.  Sometimes rocks are used in a similar way as stepping stones.

There is a peace and serenity to a Japanese Garden that would be perfect for our Skypark. 

The idea is to create a quiet romantic place for people to find peace amid the chaos of daily life.  This is a place where lovers can go to walk hand in hand. 

A Japanese Garden is the perfect idea.

This picture was taken at Houston's lovely Japanese Garden in Hermann Park.  You can find this garden near Miller Theater next to the long Reflection Pond. 

   


Here are ideas for the Skypark Garden

   
   

A stunning look would be this tasteful curving walkway among ferns.  The thickness of the shrubbery affords a sense of privacy. 

Assuming the light is as strong as I think it will be, we can expect a colorful garden as well.

Gentle water falls and lovely ferns are a recipe for tranquility

The Japanese are brilliant at using clever woodwork in their gardens

Keep in mind that a landscape architect would have nine acres to work with.  Moody Gardens has only one acre.  Just imagine what nine acres of this kind of beauty would look like. 

The Japanese landscape artists have the ability to craft all these different elements together and make it look natural.  To visualize nine acres, think of putting nine of these pictures together. 

   

I really like this rugged combination of water and rock formations.
This look would also be good for the Lagoon downstairs,

The more I look at these Japanese gardens, the more I like them!
I think one secret is the ability to contrast different colors.

   

A gentle stream and lovely waterfalls are a must

No Japanese Garden is complete without walkways over water

   

Houston could have a park like this.  All it would take would be the guts to take a chance. 

I think Houston is more than ready to begin creating some beauty of our own. 

   


The Skypark Labyrinth

 
Rick's Note:  My final idea for the Houston Skypark is to add a European-style hedge maze in the center of our garden. 

Barcelona's Horta Labyrinth is my model for this idea.

The Serra de Collserola is a mountain range between the rivers Besòs and Llobregat that serves as the backdrop for this lovely city by the sea.   The Horta Labyrinth is located to the north of Barcelona in the foothills of the Collserola ridge.

The Horta Labyrinth resides in a park on the former estate of the Desvalls family. The park comprises an 18th-century neoclassical garden and a 19th-century romantic garden.  Work on the maze began in 1791 when marquis Joan Antoni Desvalls, owner of the lot, created the design. 

In mid-19th century, the descendants of the marquis hired architect Elies Rogent to expand the park.  Rogent created a romantic garden with flower beds, gazebos, huge trees and a waterfall. A water canal was also added to the garden, connecting the upper terrace and the intermediate one.

The size of the Horta Labyrinth is 150 feet by 150.  This totals out to half an acre.  Considering size of a level inside the Astrodome is nine acres, a Labyrinth inside our Skypark would seem to fit very nicely.  Our maze would take up at most 10% of the available room.   I think it would make the perfect centerpiece.

A well-designed hedge maze is extremely decorative.  There is an elegance that makes it highly pleasing to the eye.  A tasteful maze like this would be perfect for the center of the Astrodome's upper level Skypark.  People might begin to think that maybe the Astrodome really is amazing and that it isn't just hype. 

I would suggest the Skypark Labyrinth have two important features.

First, I would make the Labyrinth a serious challenge.  No tourist is going to desire to visit the maze if it can be solved in ten minutes.  Make the place a serious puzzle!  That is how it becomes famous.

Second, put a stunningly beautiful gazebo in the center.  Surround it with picture-pretty fountains and statues.  Make the center of the maze the most beautiful spot in all of Houston. 

The Gazebo would become a symbol of Houston.  The Astrodome itself isn't particularly attractive, but a picture of the center of the Labyrinth inside the Astrodome would be particularly eye-catching.  This is the postcard picture that could be used to suggest Houston has its romantic side as well.  

Maybe this Labyrinth Gazebo would become a place to propose??

I would imagine having a couple spend an afternoon or evening discovering the gazebo at the center of the maze surrounded by fountains and statues would make for a very sweet moment. 

But don't make the Skypark Labyrinth easy!  

Every boy knows that he has to win a girl's heart.  Every girl knows that a boy appreciates a worthwhile challenge.  Using that same logic for the Houston Labyrinth, let the lovers solve the puzzle together. 

In that way, conquering the Labyrinth becomes a metaphor for the relationship - we will conquer all challenges by working together.

I cannot stress enough the need to do something unique.  There is no such thing as a serious Indoor Labyrinth in the world that I can track down.  It would be nice to do something that is both original, romantic and beautiful all wrapped into one.

The Horta Labyrinth is at the base of the Collserola Ridge.

Look how pretty the Labyrinth is.  It looks large from above, but at this size would occupy at most 5% of our available space.

The Horta Labyrinth is a perfect example of a beautifully decorative European maze.  A maze like this would be perfect for the Skypark.

Every Labyrinth deserves a fancy place at the Solution point.

I think putting the source of the Waterfall at the Solution Point to the Houston Maze would provide the perfect touch.

In addition, I would add an elevated gazebo.

First of all, anyone who conquers the maze will want to climb up and take a picture of the maze from above.

Second, wouldn't this be a great place to bring a ring along for a wedding proposal?

   
 


Turnabout is Fair Play


20 Years Ago Houston Gave the Oilers to Nashville. 

Now Nashville can return the favor and let us copy their Riverwalk.

   

Perhaps Houston was so desperate to put itself on the global events map that it chose to overlook the boring flat-terrain flood basin where it is located. 

-- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

Some people will say that Houston has no natural beauty.

By and large, this is probably true.  Houston definitely lacks the lovely rolling hills of Austin.  The old joke is that you can stack three beer cans in Dallas and see them from downtown Houston.

My reply is that a little 'cosmetic surgery' can change that. 

We can recreate a mountain and a waterfall in our own backyard.

People will say 'no way' Houston can tackle a project this big.

Wrong.  Completely wrong.  It's been done.  They built a mountain and a waterfall in Nashville; we can do it too. 

Yes, I agree that once upon a time it was very difficult to bend nature to man's will.  Did you know the first two attempts to create the Panama Canal failed?  Not only that, over 20,000 men gave their lives in the futile effort.  But that was 100 years ago.

Today our engineering skills have begun to catch up with our imagination. We are reshaping this Earth as I write.  Over in the Persian Gulf, when the engineers of Dubai aren't busy making ski resorts, they are converting desert sands into beautiful islands.

We have the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas to show us that artificial replicas of nature can be formed so perfect that only a trained eye can tell the difference.

We have places like the Gaylord Hotel in Nashville that recreates a river system so realistically that one has trouble remembering this is a man-made design.  Thank you for a great idea!

We have places like Moody Gardens that gives us a rainforest so perfect that it rivals the real thing.

We can do these exact same things in the Astrodome.

There are certain things that few Houstonians are privileged to see on a regular basis - mountains, waterfalls, rainforests, beautiful gardens and pretty streams.

The Astrodome could become home to all these natural wonders.

We built the Astrodome 50 years ago to house our sports teams only to have our gift thrown back in our face. 

Our football team (the Oilers) and our baseball team (the Astros) threatened to leave the city if we didn't give each team its very own playground.  And in fact one of our teams did leave.

Now thanks to a great owner - thank you so much, Bob McNair - we have a Texans football program I greatly respect and a terrific football stadium next door that all of Houston is proud of.

But unfortunately we also have this enormous structure just sitting next to the football stadium with no purpose. 

Or maybe there is a purpose...  Do you believe in karma?

Okay, 20 years ago Nashville took the Oilers from the Astrodome.  They got QB Steve McNair and we got Bob McNair in return.

Now we have the opportunity to complete the deal. 

I will trade the Oilers for a network of rivers and the dignity Bob McNair brings to our city in a heartbeat!  

I say take the Nashville Gaylord river complex and put something even better in the Astrodome.  I say turnabout is fair play.

This article is not meant to be disrespectful to Nashville, a city that is clearly on the move.  It is not necessary for Houston to be "better" than Nashville or San Francisco or better than any other city for that . 

It is only necessary to show the world that what our city lacks in natural beauty, we can make up for with guts and imagination. 

"Imagination" has worked before.  Take a look at Las Vegas.

I say if Las Vegas can roll the dice and bend an inhospitable climate to its will, then so can we.

Bring on the Houston Riverwalk.
 


For all those civic wannabes in Houston who like to think their city's stock is now on par with the likes of New York and San Francisco, it helps to remember the small things. 

That 110-degrees-in-the-shade concept is a sure brochure bouncer.                      -- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002


The San Francisco Chronicle hatchet job sticks in our craw because it does an excellent job of hitting us where it hurts.  Although 11
0° is a bit of an exaggeration, they have a point nonetheless.

That is why I say the Astrodome can be our secret weapon. 

I say let the Astrodome give us those things we dream about - natural beauty amidst comfort, a place to have fun without bugs and sweat, and best of all, a place where we can create a romantic ambience where we are all protected from our harsh climate.

Houston does not have a Stanley Park where people can walk along the seawall and bask in 70° ocean breezes.  Houston does not have a Central Park where the trees change colors with the seasons. 

What we do have is Memorial Park.  Before anyone gets up in arms, I love Memorial Park. Marla and I walk there every day! 

However, Memorial Park is an unlikely candidate to be a tourist attraction like Central Park and Stanley Park.

I know from experience that a walk in Memorial is a sweat bath 9 months out of the year.  I also know from experience that Marla uses ample doses of mosquito repellent and I deliberately wear long sleeves and long pants despite the heat. 

Why?  Because mosquito bites drive us crazy and West Nile virus has been detected in our zip code.  If we want to walk in a forest, our only choice is to make the best of what we've got.

Then I think of how peaceful it is to walk along the San Antonio Riverwalk in the early morning when everything is so quiet.  Down at water level, the temperature is so cool and the trees and shrubs are so lovely.  I love walking the Riverwalk early in the morning!

That is when I wonder if a Skypark is possible in the Astrodome. 

Why not take the San Antonio concept and have two Riverwalks, one full of excitement and another one that is quiet and peaceful?

We can put the crazy San Antonio Riverwalk nightlife in the downstairs of the Astrodome. 

And then let's take a page out of the Paris handbook and create a beautiful, highly romantic walkway in the Astrodome Upper Level.

Put in a Japanese Garden.  Put in a lovely European-style Labyrinth with a beautiful gazebo surrounded by fountains in the middle.

Houston doesn't have to be just football, rodeo, energy and rough necking. There is a place in our town for beauty as well.

A multi-tiered garden in the Houston Skypark is how I would create a place of beauty in the perfect place... high in sky.

This peaceful environment would encourage people of all ages to come by for a lovely stroll at all times of the day and night.

The Astrodome will be Houston's answer to the Roman Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower.  The Astrodome will bring tourists to our city. It will give conventions a reason to meet here instead of all the other cities with better attractions.  It will give hotels a reason to finally consider putting the Astroworld Graveyard to good use.

Sure, the Astrodome Project will cost money. But if it puts us back on the world stage, it is well worth the gamble.


O
il refineries may be a great boost to the local economy, but smoke and haze and skylines full of petrochemical plants don't exactly send Europeans racing to their travel agents for a trip to Houston.  

-- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

    Houston does not have a mountain or a waterfall.  We can change that.

Houston gave Nashville the Oilers.

Nashville can show us how to have our own Riverwalk.

What Houston lacks in natural beauty and comfortable climate, we can make up for it with guts and imagination.

Houston can have its own nature park with the best climate of any city in the entire world

Sometimes it doesn't hurt to dream big.  How anyone could look at the barren environment of Nevada and dream of a place like Las Vegas is pretty amazing.  There has to be a lesson here.

Houston doesn't have a climate to brag about either.  So let's go out and do something about it.

I love Memorial Park... Marla and I walk there every day!  That is how I know from experience that it is a sweat bath nine months out of the year.  I suggest Houston take a page out of the Paris handbook and create a beautiful and highly romantic walkway in the Sky.  

The Japanese Garden is a time-honored symbol of tranquility.  ..

   


Houston is Growing


The Astrodome Project is NOT a boondoggle


So it is rather amusing that second-tier towns like Houston continue to huff and puff when they get left at the threshold when competing against the San Franciscos of the world... or for that matter, the likes of London and Paris and New York.      -- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

I don't know about you, but I am not amused.

Houston is not a second tier town.  Houston is a YOUNG TOWN that is making rapid progress to becoming a world class town.

Houston is growing by leaps and bounds.  Look how far we have come and Houston doesn't even have 200 years under its belt.

By contrast, Paris and Rome have over two thousand years of history to build upon.

How about a history lesson?

Galveston was struck by a devastating hurricane in 1900.  As hard as it to believe, Galveston was blind-sided by an intense hurricane without any warning whatsoever.  The devastation was terrible and the death toll unimaginable.

Galveston was deemed too vulnerable to make it into a port city.  At this point, efforts were made to make Houston into a viable deep-water port were accelerated. 

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt approved a $1 million improvement project for the Houston Ship Channel.

Houston was now poised for an explosive growth spurt. 

I say this simply to point out that a wise investment can return untold benefits to our city.

There is much about Houston that is amazing.  We have an amazing energy corridor.  We have an amazing medical center.  We have amazing sports facilities. 

What we don't have is much in the way of entertainment.

Unfortunately Buffalo Bayou is an unlikely candidate for a Houston Riverwalk.  It suffers from the same problems as Memorial Park - too much heat, too many bugs.  Furthermore the buildings that currently occupy the downtown banks of the bayou are not exactly pretty in a tourist-friendly way.  I might add that the water in the bayou isn't very pretty either. 

On the other hand, Houston has virtually an entire empty prairie that is sitting right at Loop 610 and Kirby.  It is a prime location for economic development.  

What might happen if we built an entertainment complex in that area?  

If this idea worked for the Houston Ship Channel, then it might work for tourism as well. 

My idea is so obvious that I have to wonder why our civic leaders aren't saying the same thing.  If I had to guess, there are certain powerful economic interests that fear this idea might upset their own personal apple cart.  I don't know who they are; I am a complete outsider to Houston politics. 

I doubt that we will ever know their names, but I am quite sure these powerful interests will know to how make their voices heard in the media. 

You will soon hear that an idea like this is way too expensive. 

If my suggested Astrodome Project is so economically dangerous, then why did the Moody Foundation spend $500 million to develop Moody Gardens?

People are going to say it is too big of a gamble.

If my suggested Astrodome Project is so economically dangerous, then why did Nashville's Opryland create a nine acre tropical forest of their own?

The Astrodome is perfect for a grand project on the scale of Opryland because we have our entire city to support the project. 

And if the politicians put this idea before the Houston public in a fair way, we will support it, trust me. 

Everybody in this city who wishes they had a second chance to bring back Astroworld or bring back Waterworld will say it is time we stood up as a united community to support this grand project. 

And everybody who votes 'Yes' is invited to the New Year's Eve Party at the Astrodome. 

The rest can stay home and throw a "Second Tier Party".  For fun, let them count the tax dollars they saved by not taking a chance and the money they saved by skipping the Celebration Party. 

There is room in that building for a shopping mall. There is room in that building for restaurants. There is room in that building for sidewalk cafes. Think about the parking fees that can be collected. Think about the admission fees to enter the Dome.

San Antonio makes enormous money from its tourist industry. Houston stands to get similar rewards for its investments.

For example, according to an article in The Atlantic, a year after opening, the Astrodome became America's third-most-visited man-made tourist attraction, behind only Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Astrodome also became the anchor for the subsequent development of south Houston.

Some economists estimate that, when the "rollover effect" (dollars brought into an area by economic investment, then re-spent locally) is taken into account, the Astrodome brought profits to the city in excess of $4 billion. (source)

It happened once; it can happen again.

Once this project is successful, that enormous parking lot becomes fair game for other structures as well.

Oh, don't worry about losing some parking space.  There is plenty of room for parking garages. The day may come when we can walk straight from our car to the Astrodome through a covered air-conditioned tunnel. 

Let's put all that empty space to good use and grow our city.

How do you suppose our Medical Center grew so large? 
One new structure at a time.

How do you suppose San Antonio's Riverwalk grew so large? 
One new structure at a time.

How do you suppose NRG Park could grow?
One new structure at a time.
 

And if the politicians put this idea before the Houston public in a fair way, we will support it, trust me. 

"Oil refineries may be a great boost to the local economy, but smoke and haze and skylines full of petrochemical plants don't exactly send Europeans racing to their travel agents for a trip to Houston"

The Houston Ship Channel is hardly the equivalent of the Seine River in Paris, but in its own way it is just as valuable to Houston.

That empty parking lot and empty field sit right next to South Loop 610.  This certainly feels like the right time for an "Entertainment" equivalent of the Houston Ship Channel project 100 years ago. 

.

The caption beside this picture of the San Antonio Riverwalk reads:

"Next week the { fill in the name } will hold it’s 84th Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. { fill in the name } will be exhibiting and we’ve got quite an exciting agenda planned.  We can’t wait!

We all know the Alamo and the Riverwalk.  While the purpose of our annual convention in San Antonio is {
fill in the name }, we can’t help but enjoy the lovely city of San Antonio at the end of each day."

   
 


Back in the Saddle Again


Nashville is the Country-Western Music Capital of America.

But did you know that Houston is the Country-Western Dance Capital of America?

   

And oil refineries may be a great boost to the local economy, but smoke and haze and skylines full of petrochemical plants don't exactly send Europeans racing to their travel agents.     -- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

Speaking of oil refineries, most Houstonians will remember the crazy Urban Cowboy era.  For better or worse, most people around the world still view Houston through the lens of that movie.

A major message in the movie was that a kid who worked in an oil refinery had just as much right to seek his fortune as some rich kid with a fancy education.

In that sense, Urban Cowboy was an excellent metaphor for Houston itself.  Our city was not blessed with a San Francisco Bay or an important river artery like the Seine River of Paris. 

We had to build our ship channel; it wasn't given to us.  Like our friends in Dubai and Las Vegas, the early citizens of Houston had to make the best of the harsh environment we were.

In fact, our entire Houston culture is built around toughness.  Our ancestors had to be tough to stand up to the Mexicans who vastly outnumbered the early settlers.  Our ancestors had to be tough to stand up to hostile Indians and ruthless outlaws. 

And maybe it is that toughness that explains the chip on our shoulder we feel when the San Franciscos of the world call us a "Second Tier" city.

Personally, I am proud of Houston's Cowboy image.  Only the toughest survived this desolate outpost on America's frontier.  We earned the right to be known as 'Texans'.

However, even Texans will agree we have some maturing to do.  That said, we have solved problems before.

Back in the Eighties there was a bitter divide hit our state.  People thought it was funny to tell Aggie jokes, but we all knew there was a hostility underneath those jokes.  This led to a huge culture clash that pitted not just the farmers against the so-called sophisticated city slickers, i.e. the urbans, but the hard hats too.

Strangely enough, Urban Cowboy hit that nerve right on it rawest edge.  The upshot was that Urban Cowboy created an important social upheaval here in Houston whose effects are still felt today.

Because Urban Cowboy was filmed right here in Houston and Pasadena, the movie sparked an enormous country-western dance craze here in the city. 

At the time, the people in my crowd could definitely dance, but not to Western music.  Houston was crazy about Disco at the time. 

Imagine our shock when suddenly all the dance clubs decided to go "Country" before the movie even released.  These changes were made in anticipation of an approaching interest in Western dancing

This new "C&W Craze" had an unnatural feel about it.  To people like me who had been raised in the city, I felt like "Western dancing" was being forced down our throats.  None of my friends had a clue how to dance country.  For that matter, most of the people in my crowd hated the music.

There was one huge problem.  The only people who knew how to Western dance were Aggies raised in the country.  The city slickers were in trouble because they had never danced to Western music in their lives.  This led to some serious awkwardness.

Some of the people in downtown Houston had long turned their noses at people raised in the country in much the same way California seems to turn its nose at Texas. 

The Aggies were furious.  They felt like their space was being invaded by a bunch of pretentious false cowboys (and they were right).  This led to a serious country backlash.  Now bumper stickers began to appear - "I was Kicker when Kicker wasn't cool." 

Fortunately the angry period didn't last too long.  Slowly but surely a phenomenal cultural change began to take effect. The blue collar 'country music' lovers and the urban professionals made peace with one another on the dance floor. 

It was about this time that Texas Longhorns and Texas Aggies found a way to live in harmony...  most of the time anyway.

Today Houston is stronger for it.  Houston got a valuable lesson in the value of putting its prejudices aside long before other cities.

Meanwhile the city boys made an interesting discovery.  Country-Western dancing was fun!  Putting pretty girls in their arms was a fast way to make a young lady smile.  And gosh, those girls looked really good in those tight-fitting jeans!

Two dramatic developments took place.  Country-Western music took a quantum leap forward in quality.  The twang disappeared, the lyrics got sharper, and the musicality improved dramatically. 

Meanwhile, the Disco dancers decided to make Country-Western dancing more interesting.  Once the boys figured out how to mix double turns with Twostep, Kicker dancing would never be same.

At this point, Houston developed a love affair with Country-Western dancing.  Today I imagine there are more Houston boys spinning the girls dizzy to George Strait's "Fool Hearted Memory" than any other city in the country. 

In my opinion, Urban Cowboy made Houston the "Country-Western dance capital of America".   I don't think it would hurt Houston at all to capitalize on the memory of Urban Cowboy.  

The title cleverly captures the essence of our city - a place where a professional can work in a business suit by day in tall skyscrapers, then change into boots and jeans at night to get comfortable.  Or a place where a hard hat can drive into the big city and ask any girl to dance without fear of prejudice. 

I think a major reason our Rodeo, Houston's annual signature event, is so popular is that Urban Cowboy gave us an opportunity to heal our differences.  It makes me smile to think Country-Western dancing of all things played a part in healing process.
 


The good people of Houston will accept [their city's inferiority] over time, just like all the other cities have when they try to pass themselves off as San Francisco or Paris.      -- San Francisco Chronicle, 2002

We are not San Francisco.  We are not Paris.  We are Houston. 

And in our own way, we are just as special a city as those two fine cities are.  In some ways, Houston could benefit by copying their best ideas, but in other ways, Houston should be itself.

If we are going to encourage tourism to come to Houston, then I suggest we embrace our heritage... maybe not the mechanical bull part of our heritage so much as perhaps the dancing.  The Texas Twostep is now a major part of the Houston culture. 

If Barcelona can have its Flamenco, Houston can have its Twostep.

After all, Western Dancing is part of our Texas heritage.

With this in mind, I strongly recommend putting that Plaza in next to the Magic Fountain.  And I strongly recommend putting up a permanent stage for a band.

How about every Saturday night having the best open-air Country-Western concert in Texas?  Let's have ourselves a dance party!

Just don't forget to shoot the first fool who suggests putting in permanent seats.

Here in Texas, Country-Western dancing has a long tradition out in the country.  What Urban Cowboy did was bring this style of partner dancing into the city.  Now Houston began to learn the Twostep

I haven't said much about the shopping mall in the middle of the Astrodome, but I would imagine it would be a very interesting place to put a Country-Western dance club. 

Wouldn't it be fun to teach the world how to Twostep?

   


The Fountain, the Mountain, the Waterfall, the Lagoon, the Plaza, the Labyrinth and the Skypark Gazebo... Houston can create its very own Magic. 

We have the facility to accomplish our goals.  All we need is the willpower to do it.


New Year's Eve in the Astrodome

 

Do you know where I want to be on New Year's Eve? 

I want to be dancing the Texas Twostep at the Astrodome Riverwalk Plaza with Marla. 

Do you think we could talk George Strait into coming out of retirement to come play for us? 

Wouldn't it be fun to watch how our Magic Fountain interprets Right or Wrong, one of George Strait's signature songs?

At Midnight I want to watch the confetti rains down from the ceiling and seea Texas-sized Ball dropping from the ceiling as the band plays Auld Lang Syne

Maybe we can send a thousand balloons over the Waterfall.

After that I want to go upstairs and visit that Maze.  I want to have a New Year's smooch with Marla in the Skypark Gazebo and stare at that Waterfall up close. 

Wouldn't it be great to throw the biggest New Year's Eve Party the State of Texas has ever seen? 

Houston Astrodome, Right or Wrong, I'm still in love with you...

 

   


Let the Astrodome make Houston the talk of the world again.

Houston, the time has come to throw the biggest New Year's Eve Party this city has ever seen.  Come and watch the ball drop from the ceiling of the Houston Riverwalk in the Houston Astrodome.

Best of all, it doesn't have to just be New Year's Eve.  If you make that Magic Fountain Plaza large enough, the Astrodome can be the place for a giant dance party on a regular basis. 

Let the Astrodome become Houston's Central Park. Let the Astrodome become Vancouver's Stanley Park. Let the Astrodome become Houston's Las Ramblas.  

Finally Houston has a place to go on New Year's Eve. 

Throw some dust down on that Plaza floor and let's Waltz Across Texas!

Yes, it is going to cost us all some money. And yes, the naysayers are still going to look for reasons to tear it down.

And we are going to say 'no way'.

We are going to say this structure can become the unifying point of our entire city.

If we carry out the vision, the Astrodome will begin to serve as a meeting place for people in our city on a daily basis for many years to come.

And who knows, maybe an entire oasis of hotels will join the party and someday we will have a Riverwalk outside the Astrodome as well. 

Rick Archer
September 2014

rick@ssqq.com

   

How do we start the Astrodome Project?

Rick Archer's Note:  We start the Astrodome Project by writing letters of support to me.

Tomorrow I will create a "Letters to the Editor" section and add a link to it from this page. 

I will add letters to this page as they come in.   I will print whatever is sent to me unless I decide it is too ugly to bother with.

I will print letters sent 'anonymously', but I prefer that you allow me to publish your names.

If you want to keep it simple, just send me an email and say, "I'm in." 

I will create a list and simply add your name.  Your email addresses will be kept private.

I have to be honest... if the response is lukewarm, then I will drop the subject.  Maybe Houston really is a second-tier town.

But I don't think so.  I think a lot of people are going to nod their heads and agree there are some good ideas in this article.

If you agree this is an important subject, then stand up and be heard.  Don't just tell me what you think, let other people know what you think as well by sending them a link

If enough people see this idea has a shot at support, then they will jump in too.  However, right now it all starts with you. 

A giant waterfall begins as a little trickle of water somewhere.  This is "stand up and be counted" time.  Let's start now.

rick@ssqq.com

 

   
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