JUAN A. LOZANO
HOUSTON (AP) -- Like many Houston residents, Belinda Fernandez has fond childhood memories of watching baseball games at the city's iconic Astrodome, which now sits empty and faces a possible demolition.
"My dad used to know some of the Astros. We used to go to the dugout and meet some of the players. I'm choking up just thinking about it," said the 49-year-old real estate broker.
Fernandez was one of many Houston residents who on Monday stopped by a 26-foot-long truck dubbed the "Dome Mobile" and wrote her favorite Astrodome memory on a large interior wall. The truck will be traveling around Houston the next couple of weeks as part of an effort to educate people about a Nov. 5 ballot measure on the structure's future.
Voters will decide whether to approve a referendum authorizing up to $217 million in bonds to turn the stadium that once hosted both baseball and football games into a giant convention center and exhibition space.
While there has not been an organized effort against the referendum, some opponents have said that the money to refurbish the Astrodome could be better spent on other projects.
Houston-area leaders say the so-called "Eighth Wonder of the World" will more than likely be torn down if the ballot measure fails to pass.
"It would be a big upset to see it bulldozed. I hope it never happens," said Peyton Cottrell II, who along with Fernandez plans to vote in favor of the referendum.
The "Dome Mobile" truck is the highest-profile effort by a coalition of local and national preservation groups working to convince voters to approve the referendum. A political action committee was also formed in support of the referendum.
Inside the truck, visitors can learn more about the proposal to save the Astrodome, write their Astrodome memories and preservation messages on the large wall and walk on AstroTurf from the stadium. The truck's debut coincided with the first day of early voting for the Nov. 5 election. In addition to the truck, the coalition has taken to Facebook and Twitter and spoken at community meetings.
The truck is scheduled to travel around Houston and Harris County between Monday and Election Day. On Monday, it was outside Crave Cupcakes, one of several local businesses supporting the efforts to save the Astrodome. The business is selling cupcakes with toppers that say, "Save the Dome."
"It deserves a place in history. This is our opportunity to do that. Hopefully the rest of Houston will understand that and agree with all of us who want to see the Astrodome saved," said Peter Cooper, one of the owners of Crave Cupcakes.
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was the world's first multipurpose domed stadium. It was home to Major League Baseball's Houston Astros and the NFL's Houston Oilers. But it hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009.
A poll conducted in mid-September by Rice University in Houston found 45 percent of likely voters supported the referendum, with 35 percent opposing it and nearly 20 percent still undecided.
Beth Wiedower, senior field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was encouraged by the poll's results.
"We've worked really hard to target the 20 percent who are undecided to make the case for reuse," she said. "We've had a lot of positive response from folks once they learn about the plan."
The ballot measure calls for creating 350,000 square feet of exhibition space by removing all the interior seats and raising the floor to street level. Other changes include creating 400,000 square feet of plaza and green space on the outside of the structure as part of the project, dubbed "The New Dome Experience." The proposal would take about 2 1/2 years to complete.
Uchenna Agu, a marketing strategist who dropped by the "Dome Mobile" truck on Monday, said while he would have liked a hotel or a shopping area incorporated into the plans, he will probably end up voting in favor of the referendum.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/juanlozano70
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