Think $25 million is a lot for Austin USGP? That’s nothing next to this

There’s been a bit of hand-wringing since news emerged that Texas taxpayers likely would have to foot the first-year bill for the proposed U.S. Grand Prix, set for 2012. It all felt very familiar, very “Bernie Ecclestone squeezing blood from a (taxpayer) turnip.”

Well, you know the old saying about things being big in Texas? In this case, $25 million isn’t.

What’s big is a plan to revamp Houston’s once state-of-the-art Astrodome into a convention and science center. The cost? $1.35 billion.

That’s billion.

And according to the Associated Press, perhaps two-thirds of that money would come out of taxpayers’ pockets:

HOUSTON (AP) — A $1.35 billion-dollar plan would turn the landmark Houston Astrodome into a convention and science center. But officials say at least two-thirds of the cost would have to be approved and picked up by taxpayers.

Another option in the plan unveiled Monday is razing the stadium. The plan was presented by county officials and complex managers.

The Astrodome opened in 1965 as the nation’s first indoor air-conditioned multi-use stadium and was known as the ”Eighth Wonder of the World.” The deteriorating structure now costs Harris County about $500,000 a year to maintain and millions in debt and interest payments.

It’s dwarfed by the adjacent, newer and more luxurious Reliant Stadium. The Houston Astros left a decade ago for Minute Maid Park downtown.

Maybe the U.S. Grand Prix organizers can slide their request for $25 million into a footnote in the bond that would pay for that, huh?

Oh, and one other interesting item. I saw an ad at the Austin American-Statesman for a local bank that noted that Texas is the world’s 10th largest economy. I think that fact can do right in the column on “why Texas and Austin are good places for a grand prix.”

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