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Reliant Stadium

Aerial View

  Venue Resources  
Address One Reliant Park
Houston, TX 77054
Phone (877) 635-2002
Official Website
Seating Weather
Newspaper
Satellite View
Texans Gear
  Calendar / Tickets  
Hotels, Dining & Deals in Houston

  The Facility  
Date Opened August 24, 2002
Ownership
(Management)
Harris County
(SMG World)
Surface Grass
Cost of Construction $352 million
Naming Rights Reliant Energy paid $300 million for 32 years for the entire Astrodome Complex.
Stadium Architect Populous
  Other Facts  
Tenants Houston Texans
(NFL) (2002-Present)
Population Base 3,900,000
On Site Parking 25,000
Nearest Airport George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport (IAH)
Retired Numbers None

  Seating  
Capacity 71,500
Average Ticket $56.73
(2005)
$66.69
(2008)
Fan Cost Index (FCI) $336.90
(2005)
$376.75
(2008)
The Team Marketing Report FCI includes: four average-price tickets; four small soft drinks; two small beers; four hot dogs; two game programs; parking; and two adult-size caps.
Luxury Suites 187 Suites
Club Seats 8,200
  Attendance History  
2002 2003 2004 2005
559,322 563,748 565,192 562,397

2006 2007 2008 2009
561,469 564,159 563,364 564,864

2010 2011 2012 2013
568,643 571,969 573,321

Sources: Mediaventures

Sky’s the Limit
Replacing the "Eighth Wonder of the World"
By David Manica

When the Astrodome opened on April 9, 1965, spectators had never seen anything like it before. It stood proud as the world’s first all-weather, multi-purpose domed stadium, boasting cushioned seats, 53 futuristic "Skyboxes," and a magnificent $2 million scoreboard featuring visual extravaganzas, cartoons and helpful instructions for fans. Over 4,500 semi-transparent skylights allowed sunlight to filter down to help the real grass playing field to grow. To make the conversion from football to baseball, 10,000 field level seats would rotate on tracks to either follow the foul lines of the baseball diamond or parallel the sidelines of the football field. The roof structure, with a clar span of 642 feet, was twice that of any previous structure. It is no wonder why this awesome building was immediately billed "The Eighth Wonder of the World."

During the first season of play in the Astrodome, it was realized that the sharp contrast between the lighting on the field and the acrylic skylights made fly balls too difficult to see. The ceiling tiles were quickly painted opaque, and as a result the grass died almost immediately. This series of events prompted the invention of plastic grass most commonly called Astroturf. The new material was laid down for Opening Day, 1966.

Aging gracefully

The Astrodome held its own for many years, but in the mid 1980s and 1990s, with the advent of the stadium boom, the dome certainly began to show its age. Still an awesome structure to behold, the stadium was not responding to the new needs in sports design. The concourses were too dark and grossly undersized by modern standards. The sightlines of the circular seating bowl were recognized as inadequate. The quality of the luxury suites could not compete with the new more modern facilities. After years of playing on both artificial and natural turfs around the country, teams had begun to prefer the natural turf. There was a move to get back outside - under the sun or stars - and enjoy the game "as it was meant to be."

Stadium Comparison

Stadium Comparison
Description Astrodome Reliant Stadium
Total Seats  62,500  71,500
Number of Suites  119 187
Distance from suites to sideline
 Lower Suites
 Upper Suites
 225 ft.
 275 ft.
 130 ft.
 178 ft.
Quantity of sideline seating  28,200  44,000
Club Seats None  8,200
Schedule (Year ready for NFL) N/A 2002
Full Rodeo Compliance  No Yes
Parking (20,000 spaces)  Yes
 24,000
 Yes
 24,000 to 26,000
Full NFL Compliance  No Yes
Major League Soccer Compliance  No Yes
Olympic/Pan Am Games Compliance  No Yes
Natural Grass  No Yes
Retractable Roof No Yes
Proximity to Exhibition Space Yes Yes

 

Eventually, Houston’s Oilers football team left the city, and the Houston Astros began constructing a new retractable roof baseball stadium downtown. The only full time tenant remaining in the Astrodome in the mid-to-late-1990s was the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLS&R). This event happens annually from mid February until early March. During this period, nearly two million people come to the site and an annual revenue of $45 million is generated.

In late 1997, almost as soon as the Oilers had left Houston, the Houston NFL Holdings group came to HOK Sport to begin the schematic design for the first-ever NFL retractable roof football stadium. Bob McNair, a self-made multi-billionaire, would provide the ways and means to get football back to Houston. The NFL had indicated that it would add an additional franchise team for a total of 32 teams. The leading candidates for the new team were Los Angeles and Houston. Bob McNair joined forces with the powerful rodeo organization to begin designing a building that would perfectly accommodate both uses.

In September 1999, after negotiating a $700 million franchise fee, the NFL owners granted the 32nd franchise to Houston with the added assurance of the Super Bowl in 2004. After adding the cost of the stadium and other items, the deal was for well over one billion dollars.

Interestingly, the program requirements of both football and rodeo are very similar. In fact, except for a series of additional requirements, the perfect football stadium would be the perfect rodeo facility. The intention from the start was to create a football stadium that would operate like an open-air facility but have the intimacy and comfort of an indoor arena. With the compact design for football and the additional square footage requirements of the rodeo, the building is hovering around the 1.9 million square foot range.

Design needs

The Houston based architectural firms of Hermes Reed Architects (HRA) and Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam (LAN) teamed to create the Houston Stadium Consultants (HSC). The HSC, with the design leadership of HOK Sport, set out to design the replacement of the Eighth Wonder of the World.

From the design’s inception, many of the driving concepts for the stadium hinged on offering superior amenities to the spectator. Like the Astrodome on its opening day, this building will be unlike any other stadium spectators will have seen before.

While many of the new baseball stadiums look back nostalgically for inspiration, Reliant Stadium has its eye on the future. It will be creating a new history for football in Houston and redefining the largest rodeo in the world. It was obvious that this building needed to reflect the spirit of sports and entertainment in the new Millennium.

Although thoughts of Texas may conjure up images of cowboys on open plains, Houston is actually a boomtown - finding its roots in the 1960s with the dawn of NASA and the space race. Today, it is a multi-nodal epicenter of technology, medicine, industry, banking and space exploration. The design of Reliant Stadium would capture the essence of this hi-tech history, as well as the sense of adventure that is uniquely Texan.

The first NFL retractable

One of the most notable aspects of the design is the unique operable fabric roof. While the NFL teams prefer to play their games in open-air stadiums, the HLS&R, because of its winter event schedule, has strict requirements to hold its events indoors under more controlled environments. As a result of these two opposing ideals, the need for a retractable roof was apparent from the start. The NFL could also take advantage of the roof during the hot preseason and early season home games in southern Texas by offering a fully air-conditioned stadium for the spectators.

After studying multiple roof schemes, a distinctly simple solution was pursued for cost and maintenance reasons. The operable roof consists of two large panels that bi-part at the 50-yard line. Each panel slides on a track and rests over each end zone on two massive supertrusses that span the length of the field. Walter P. Moore structural engineers, Uni-Systems, and Birdair united as one design team to engineer the concept. In order to keep the weight down, resulting in less overall cost, the decision was made to skin the upper roof with Birdair fabric. The fabric roof provides a structurally light solution that will enable the team to keep steel tonnages to a minimum. The translucency provides the ambient sunlight to help the natural grass playing field to be maintained. Furthermore, since matinee black-out requirements were negligible, the filtered sunlight would only serve to enhance the daytime events in the building.

The fabric panels are stretched between triehord trusses using prestressed cables. The two retractable roof panels, each consisting of five parallel triehord trusses, open about the centerline of the field in a direction parallel to the sidelines. Two additional fixed trichord trusses anchor the noth and south endzones at an elevation just below the retractable panels. The trichord trusses, nominally 30ft deep at midspan, span approximately 385 feet across the playing field. The 10 retractable trichord trusses ride along a single rail anchored to the top of the tapered longspan supertrusses, one along each sideline of the playing field. The supertrusses, tapering between 50ft deep at midspan and 72ft at the end supports, are supported by and structurally integral with four giant reinforced support columns or "supercolumns" - one at each corner of the field. The supertrusses, spanning approximately 675ft between supports, have a trapezoid-shaped cross section with a concrete slab at the top edge providing support for the rails and the retractable roof mechanization. The supertrusses also cantilever over the top of the supporting supercolumns approximately 125ft on each end providing support for the rolling roof panels in their retracted position.

Engineering on the move

One of the many unique characteristics of the roof system is found in the detail at which the trichord trusses are supported and connected to the supertrusses. On the "fixed" west end, the trichord trusses are rigidly bolted to the supporting carrier beams, which, in turn, are supported by 36in diameter steel flanged wheels riding along a 6in deep 175lb rail. The east end of the trichord trusses is designed as "pinned" in order to accommodate free movement and prevent large transverse forces perpendicular to the supporting rails. A special "two bar linkage" detail has been conceived at the pinned end. Consisting of two vertical posts, one carrying the roof load of the trichord truss and the other providing stability, the linkage works like a giant teeter-totter and keeps the top surface of the carrier beam in a horizontal position, preventing large forces and rotations at the wheel base on top of the rail.

Predicting the operating and design load parameters as they relate to winds over the roof’s surface was an important aspect of the engineering of the project. Canada’s RWDI created a scale model of the complete stadium and studied the model in a wind tunnel. The positive and negative pressures were tabulated to give a specific understanding of the implications of the design.

The two roofs panels are driven by a total of 20 carriers, one at each end of each of the 10 trichord trusses. There is a total of roughly 300 tons of machinery driving the roof. Each carrier has two, 36in tread diameter, hardened, double flanged, forged steel wheels. Each of the 40 wheels are driven by a 5hp, 460VAC, electric motor, planetary gear reducer and open gear final drive. Also, each drive train includes a spring set, fail safe, electric brake. The system also includes motorized rail clamps, which lock the system down when not in operation. The entire drive system is controlled by a sophisticated computer that gives the operator continuous operation feedback and provides fault detection and diagnostics to identify where specific components are not operating as specified. The drive system is variable speed of about 35ft/min and a closing time of about seven minutes. The system is designed to be operational and able to drive into wind gusts of up to 50mph.

Lineout, hoof and music

In addition to the design of the operable roof, technology played an important part in other aspects of the design. With the 3D model of the seating bowl and roof, WJHW (the acoustical consultants on the project) were able to model these acoustics in the space to give a thorough understanding of reverberance and audibility. The information was critical not only in the design of the scoreboard and PA system, but in the dampening systems that would help the building function as a premiere concert facility.

Along with the wind studies for roof engineering, RWDI modeled a number of different parameters to better understand the future natural turf conditions. The 3D seating bowl and the translucent fabric roof were modeled together under actual lighting conditions in Houston, to help the design team have a more complete understanding of turf maintenance issues before any construction had begun.

Great seats for all

The stadium’s standard capacity is fixed at 69,500 seats, although provisions have been made to accommodate larger crowds for the 2004 Super Bowl. The section is pulled as tight to the football field as possible. Every effort has been made to pull the spectators down and forward to the action. Compared to the Astrodome, for example, the suites are almost 90ft closer to the action at the sidelines. The concourses have been widened, up to 65ft in some areas of the main concourse. The level of toilet fixtures and concessions has been brought up to modern standards.

The main concourse, in fact, boasts one concession stand for every 125 people. The main and club concourses have open views to the seating areas - allowing for the action of the game to permeate the concourse areas. Exterior terraces at each concourse, some smoking and others non-smoking, will provide the general public with opportunities to enjoy the comfortable months of the year outdoors between periods.

The sides and the ends of the buildings have been opened up to the exterior with large areas of glazing.

This was another improvement to the quality of experience of the spectators. As opposed to the dark artificially lit concourses of most indoor facilities, these concourses will feel more like an open-air stadium. The transparent skin will allow for heating and cooling to regulate temperatures year round. At night, the building will glow from within, and the circulation and excitement of the people inside will be visible from the outside. As Bob McNair is proud to say, "…at night, the building will glow like the crown jewel of the NFL."

Private viewing

After deciding that 166 private suites would be accommodated along the sides of the building, one level of suites was pulled down below the club seats - just off the main concourse - to create the closest suites in the NFL. The private suites are finished with granite counters, custom cherry cabinets and four television monitors. Unlike many outdoor football stadiums, the three rows of 24in wide seats are located outside the glass in the seating bowl. The fixed roof of the stadium will keep the patrons dry, even when the operable roof is open.

All VIP patrons, including 7,700 club spectators and the 166 private suite holders, will have private upscale entrances at each side of the building with private escalators and elevators that will take them to their seats. The club seating areas, located along the sidelines of the field, have direct access to large lounge areas with views both outside the building and into the stadium.

Scoreboard
Click Here to Get Your Personalized Scoreboard
Themed bars, lounge seating, exterior terraces and upscale food amenities will be provided for these special spectators. The open section of the seating bowl provided the opportunity to create bars and booth seating in the lounge area with direct views to the game.

The stadium has growing room as well. The potential to bring the total suite count up to 200 is easily feasible - adding "halo" suites at the upper endzones and mirroring the press box gondola to the opposite side to provide "skybox" suites. Seats can be added around the Main and Club concourses to bring total seating capacity up to nearly 72,000.

Ready to roll

Slated to start construction immediately after the completion of the rodeo this March 2000, the 30 month construction schedule will allow the building to be open for the 2002 NFL season.

When the building opens, the people of Houston will once again be able to enjoy the power and excitement of the NFL. The Houston Rodeo will, for the first time, have a building specifically designed for their needs. And all the action will be under the retractable roof of Reliant Stadium

The New Harris County Stadium

Houston NFL fans will be treated to a game-day experience unmatched throughout the league when the Texans open play against Miami in August of 2002. The New Harris County Stadium, developed by HOK, will be one of the premier sporting facilities in the world.

First and foremost, Houston’s world-class design features the world’s first retractable roof football stadium with a grass playing surface. The roof can open and close to adjust to weather conditions, resulting in year-round, climate-controlled comfort.

“When the new stadium in Houston opens in August 2002, the city of Houston will redefine the future of the stadium experience - for the second time in history,” says David Manica, project manager for HOK Sports, referring to the 1965 opening of the futuristic Astrodome.

The lower-level in the new stadium are closer to the playing field than any suites in the NFL. Fans in the suites will be nearly 90 feet closer to the action than they were at the Astrodome. The 166 suites will boast seating capacities of 16 to 22 people.

The spacious club lounges will have exterior balconies, upscale restaurants and bars. The main concourse will offer an open view of the game, as well as food courts, interactive kiosks and retail shops.

The New Harris County Stadium will not only house the Texans, but will also serve as the host for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, beginning in 2003. And the stadium is slated to host a Super Bowl as early as 2004

Luxury Suites: The Best Seat in the House

Luxury Suite holders will have the most enhanced game-day experience imaginable. As a Luxury Suite holder, you and your guests park in reserved VIP spaces that are located directly adjacent to the stadium and enter the private Luxury Suite Lounge, where you can greet guests or have any special requests met by attentive on-staff concierges. You have access to the Club Lounges for a pre-game buffet or you can go directly to your Luxury Suite, which has its own bar, buffet counter, refrigerator and liquor cabinet. Almost every Suite has its own private restroom and each Suite will have a high-tech video system with four television monitors that allow you to simultaneously watch four different games on NFL Sundays.

But that’s only the beginning of a truly exceptional game-day experience. Your personal Suite Attendant will be at your service to attend to your guests’ every need and help make entertaining effortless. You will select the menu you wish to serve guests in advance from a wide array of catering options, from first-class fine dining to traditional football fare.

You have the best seat in the house - literally. Your Suite is among the closest to the field in the NFL. In fact, it’s 90 feet closer and much lower than Astrodome suites. And, when the Super Bowl comes to Houston, you’ll have access to a number of Suite tickets for every Houston Super Bowl as determined by the NFL.

Club Seats: The Premier NFL Experience

Extra-wide 21” padded seats with cup holders
Private escalator to the spectacular Club Lounges
Wide-screen televisions and video wall in the Club Lounges
Comfortable seating areas
Special dining and beverage options
Attendant service at seats
Priority reservation privileges for non-event-day use of the Club Lounges
You park in your special reserved VIP parking area, enter through the private club entrance, meet your friends and clients in the spacious lounge and enjoy a fine dining experience. But you’re not at your country club - you’re at a Houston Texans game.

Club Seats have been called “suite sales you can buy one at a time.” The seats are located along the sidelines at the optimum viewing level of the stadium and offer what many consider the best view of the action on the field. Club Seat holders will have access to the following features:

Stadium Features

Stadium Features
The NFL's first retractable roof stadium
Total seating capacity: 69,500
Total Club Seating: 7,700
166 total Private Suites at 16 and 22 people each
First row of suites will be the closest to the field in the NFL
2 Mega Suites at 150 people each
4 Super Suites at 80 and 88 people each
2 Owner Suites at 50 people each
Spacious Club Lounges with exterior balcony, restaurants, and bars
Club Bar Seating with direct view to event
Modern locker room facilities, meeting rooms and support services
50'-0" wide main concourse with food courts, interactive kiosks, retail and toilet facilities
Open view to the event from the concourses
State of the art retractable roof opens and closes in 10 minutes
Flexible enough to host a multitude of events

 

THE ULTIMATE SPORTS ROAD TRIP
By: Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell

Reliant Stadium Ranking by USRT
Architecture 8
Concessions 9
Scoreboard 7.5
Ushers 8
Fan Support 6.5
Location 6
Banners/History 3
Entertainment 7
Concourses/Fan Comfort 9
Bonus: Tailgate Scene 3
Bonus: USRT Assist 1
Bonus: End Zone Band 1
Bonus: Player Intros 1
Bonus: Retractable Roof 1
Total Score 72
November 17, 2002 - It has been five seasons since football fans around these parts had their hearts ripped out when the Oilers left town for seemingly greener pastures in Tennessee. But thanks to the perserverance of an entire community, the leadership of team owner Bob McNair and the eventual construction of what was to become Reliant Stadium, the NFL awarded the 32nd franchise to the city of Houston. The team was named the Texans, and they began play this season in a city that welcomed back the NFL with open arms. And with it comes Reliant Stadium, a brand new, state-of-the-art football venue that dazzles the senses with its sleek design, imposing architecture, first of a kind retractable roof, and enough of the touches to make the fan experience here superb.

Getting to the Venue
Reliant Stadium is located on Kirby Drive just off of the South I-610 loop, and if you are driving on the interstates anywhere in the southwest quadrant of Houston, chances are that you will see this structure dominating the skyline. Quite a few major highways bisect the stadium complex, and signage along the highways direct fans to their color coded lot. Here is the first heads up you will need if attending a Texans game here.. there is NO cash parking on stadium property. One must have a parking pass, and they can be purchased via ticketmaster for $10 (plus fees). Satellite private parking is limited, mostly due to the vast size of the stadium property, and the south boundary which abuts the 610 loop. Parking lot maps and policies are spelled out on the Texans website. (We purchased a "yellow" lot pass on Ebay for $5, and with us arriving early that put us just a few steps from the gates, not too shabby).

Outside the Venue
Reliant Stadium is the major building in a complex that also includes the venerable Astrodome, Reliant Arena and an amusement park. Nicely landscaped, freshly paved and striped parking lots and pedestrian overpasses over Kirby Drive are what you will find outside Reliant Stadium. So what is the buzz word??? --- Tailgating! Tailgating, tailgating and more tailgating. The old Oilers had strict prohibitions on tailgating at the Astrodome, and the Texans decided that not only were they going to lift the ban, but were going to jump start this great football tradition by opening up the lots and encouraging fans to come early and stay late and have a good time. In doing so, Houston is trying to immediately establish itself as one of the NFL's top tailgate cities.

From what we observed, they have already made great strides towards that goal. Lots here open four hours before game time, and convoys of cars and RV's are already queued up waiting to get in and begin the day's festivities. Guest relations gals from Reliant Energy troll the parking lots, snapping photos of the partiers and handing out prizes for creative decorations.On the south side of the stadium is the "Budweiser Plaza", and there you can find pregame musical entertainment, refreshments and even bleacher seating to watch the goings on. Portable restrooms, coal dispensers and waste receptacles are plentiful. Today was also the beginning of a one week long "Ultimate Fan" contest, where one finalist would be chosen from among five semi finalists to compete nationally. Delegations for the contestants were walking the lots and soliciting votes for their candidates (our choice was Preston from the Bullpen Tailgate, more on that later). Lastly, not only are the parking lots color coded, but also numbered in a grid format, with ample "you are here" map signs to get you around and to encourage folks to visit each other's tailgates. The scene here was awesome - plenty of Texans flags, decorations, proud flags of the Lone Star State, and a party scene that would rival the best of them in the NFL!

The Stadium and Concourses
This venue is an architectural marvel! It is rectangularly shaped, with a cream colored brick facade and expansive use of glass on all four sides of the building to allow natural light into the concourses and nice views from the inside. Massive red and black "Reliant Stadium" marquees adorn the north and south sides of the venue. The building is surrounded by wrought iron fences and lush landscaping, as well as colored pavement to match the facade of the structure. And of course, the large two part retractable roof makes for a distinctive cap to the stadium (the roof was open on this picture perfect sunny 70 degree day). Access to the stadium is kind of interesting - the security checkpoints are well away from the stadium along the wrought iron fence line, and once through there you are on the large "Budweiser Plaza", where you can enjoy the pregame activities and entertainment. There are refreshment stands and a comfort station out here as well. From this point there are four "gates", one in each corner of the stadium. Each gate has a named corporate sponsor (The Ford gate, the Gallery Furniture gate, etc) That is where you get your ticket scanned and enter the ramps to take you to your concourse. Once up the first two ramps, there are also escalator towers available from that point to take you to the club or upper levels.

All concourses here are inside and protected from the elements - the only outside areas are the four ramp/escalator towers. As stated, the concourses here are bright, because of the large amount of glass walls which allow natural light into the building and great views of the outside. Concourses here are massive, wide, and simple to navigate, even at halftime. Great attention was given to allow freedom of movement around the building. Concession stands are decorated with colorful canopies.

Above both the 100 and 500 concourses are large red facades with unusual orange symbols. These walls pretty much wrap around the entire circumference of the concourses and even appear on some of the concession marquees. We looked at these with puzzlement at first, wondering what they meant. Then it hit us.... they are symbols of CATTLE BRANDS. How wonderful! How truly, truly great!!! Here we are in Texas, where the oil and ranching industries are king, and the designers of this building thought enough to celebrate their state's proud culture and heritage in a simple, yet meaningful way. Thumbs up from us!!!

In the 100 concourse above each of the four ramp exits are gigantic ad panels for that gate's sponsor, and they frame a huge video board which shows the action on the field. These displays really look imposing. Add to this mood lighting, low metallic ceilings as you make your way to your seats, and a view of the seating bowl from the concourse, and you've got a set up here which comes together very nicely.

The Seating Bowl
With over 69,500 seats, Reliant Stadium's seating bowl is colored in red, blue and gray seats to emulate the team's colors. The seating area here is actually squared off, with massive pylons in each corner of the upper deck to support the roof and retractable roof panels. Save for some of the lower bowl seats, all fans here are weather protected, and the retractable roof slides together in two panels, and they join together above the 50 yard line. High above each end zone are large video boards joined with several dot matrix boards, stationary ad panels and the "Reliant Stadium" logo. Along the sidelines are additional dot matrix boards offering game information, out of town scores and out of town individual stat information for the fantasy leaguers, as well as a sequence of synchronized changeable ad panels. All presented very nicely and without the look of clutter.

Concessions
"Go Texans" is the name of the team store, located on the ground level outside the Budweiser Plaza. Throughout the concourses are a number of "Go Texans Express" merchandise kiosks. We looked for a Texans 10 gallon hat but there were none to be found so we settled for a jersey and a sweatshirt. Food concessions are grouped according to Texas themes (and corresponding cattle brands), with choices such as Cactus Cantina and 5 star dogs. Along the sideline area concourses are very long margarita bars offering the frozen stuff in regular glasses, with the large size served in some of the weirdest shaped souvenir glasses you ever saw.

Premium Seating
As is the case with newer NFL venues, club seating here spans both sidelines on the mezzanine level. Here too, the club concourse has a terrific view of the seating bowl, and along the glass wall are seating rails and even a couple bars. In the center of the club concourse is a sweeping atrium style court area with full bar, carvery and seating area, and again, full glass walls to the outside offering dramatic views. The club concourse is carpeted, but here designs are interwoven into the carpet in the shapes of the state of Texas. In addition, luxury suites ring the entire seating bowl directly above and below the club level. There are limited single club seats available, with costs ranging from $160-$275.

Banners/Retired Numbers
We tip our caps to the Houston Texans front office for refraining from hanging some stupid banner like "Fans #1", or "Best Attendance By An Expansion Team For A Sunday Night Season Opener". For now the rafters are clear of such nonsense, and with  the titles and the great players will come the appropriate banners. It is unfortunate, however, that the situation being what it is, names Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, Bum Phillips, Warren Moon, perhaps others, and even a tribute to the fans who made "The House of Pain" what it was are not given a place of honor in the building. Perhaps the fans of Houston and the team will do the right thing in due time.

Touchdowns/Extra Points/Fumbles

Touchdown - To the many, many fans who extended a warm Texas welcome to us and made our visit so very special. We want to give special props to the Bullpen Tailgate in the Blue Lot. Pete, Kimberly, Preston, Alan, Andrew, Vinny and many others whose names we don't have but were just so great to us. Sandy is "The Matriarch" of the Bullpen group and invited us to sign a Texans commemorative flag which will eventually be framed. In our one lame attempt at trash talk, Andrew signed it as follows, "Bills 41-Oilers 38, the Greatest Comeback Ever!" All in fun folks!

Also thanks Blaine Tamplain and his gang, also in the Blue Lot, who emailed us months ago with the tailgate invite and even asked what we wanted on the menu. (the jambalaya was awesome!). We arrived early and stayed late and soaked in the great Texans tailgate scene. Lots of love to you guys and we hope to see you again next year!

Touchdown - to sports writer David Barron and photographer Chris Perez from the Houston Chronicle. David did an article in late summer about tailgating in the NFL and asked for our opinions which became a part of that story. He called on us again right before our visit and we hooked up in the building for an interview. We figured we'd get a mention in the Chronicle's extra points section with a few sentences. Then Chris the photographer arrives on the scene and we knew something was up. Well Pete headed down to the hotel lobby at 5:45 AM Monday morning to get the paper, and there we were with a FULL PAGE SPREAD! Are you kidding??!!! We are grateful and humbled by the show of interest in our story.

Extra Point - Texans fans really know how to participate in event presentation. Here in Houston when they announce the starting lineups they only give the first names, leaving the fans to shout out the last name. For example, the announcer says, "...and at Quarterback, from Fresno State, number 8, David....", and the fans shout out "CARR!". Very very cool! Warning to Texansfan... how are you guys going to cope should players Tim Biatabatuka or Chris Fuamatu-Ma afala ever get signed by the team and make the Texans starting lineup?

Fumble - to the parking gate guy in the yellow lot. This guy wasn't a cop or an orange vested directional person, but an older gentleman who was dressed like one of those Salvation Army guys you see around Christmas. By the time we left and headed for our car, the lots were down to a few late tailgaters and things had pretty much cleared out. We head to the main exit onto Main, and there's Salvationarmyguy with the gate closed, barring our exit and that of others who were also trying to leave, and waving us to another gate. So we searched in vain for another way out, but everything was padlocked... in frustration we were following other cars and other cars were following us, all looking for egress. Finally about 30 cars converged back at the main exit, honking and flashing headlights and demanding that Salvationarmyguy open the gate. He did so, but very reluctantly, and with eight or so exit lanes available he only opened the gate a small crack to allow one car at a time to squeeze out. Obviously he didn't want to strain himself since he'd have to be fresh in the morning to haul out his kettle and clang his bell in front of the Fiesta Supermarket. As we inched out through the narrow passage, we were treated to his scowl, the only one we encountered on this entire trip in this friendly community. What a moron!!!

Fumble - The Texans being an expansion team, we knew it would take a huge dose of USRT karma to pull out a victory for the home team. And darn it we did try! The Texans gallantly rallied from a 17 point deficit and had the ball in the closing minutes, poised to get the tying score. But they fell short to the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-21. You would think that would be a real downer, but Houston fans are just so overjoyed just to have the NFL back, they can handle the losses... for now.

Touchdown - to Texans Senior VP for Marketing James Rootes, who we were introduced to by David Barron and who also gave us a warm welcome to Reliant Stadium. Jamey furnished us with club seat passes and we got to enjoy (and photograph) the stadium for most of the 3rd quarter from some of the best seats in the house.

Extra Point - entertaining at the top of 100 level end zone is a real live band, sitting in the seats and playing their horns and getting fans into the game. They are easily recognizable wearing white Texans "32" jerseys.

Fumble - For a stadium that cost over $300M and has been open since August, there are still some rows of seats (ours in the fifth row of sec 505 included) where permanent seats have not been installed, and in their place are tightly packed folding chairs offering little shoulder/elbow room. The permanent seats two rows ahead were plenty comfortable. C'mon guys, let's get this place finished!!!

Extra Point - Outside the stadium in the southeast corner is a monument honoring the 15,000 or so Personal Seat License holders who paid the extra money to help fund the construction of this beautiful building. A nice gesture for the fans!

Extra Point - in places like Miller Park and Skydome, fans are invited to stick around and watch the retractable roof close after the game, but here at Reliant Stadium they apparently leave the roof open, so there was no show to be had. Speaking of which, apparently the NFL has issued some guidelines as to what circumstances the roof can be opened and closed. Can you imagine on an inclement day, the home team is on offense and the roof is closed, and when the team goes on defense they open the roof and expose the visiting offense to the elements and wind? How hilarious would that be?!

Summary
We really love visiting Texas, and Houston in particular. This whole mystique about Texans being friendly is really no myth, and every time we come here it seems that people are going out of their way to make us feel wanted and welcome. OK... about Reliant Stadium... the building is architecturally stunning. The first of the generation of retractable roof stadiums in the NFL has raised the bar for other teams to follow. But then again, we have toured more than a few spanking new NFL stadiums in the past year, why is this one any different from the rest? The answer - the Houston Texans not only have built a stadium with bricks and mortar to bring fans in to watch a game, but they have built an EXPERIENCE for visitors to enjoy. The Houston Texans management GETS IT. With season tickets, including PSL seats, going strong and Houston fans filling the place in this inaugural season, it would be easy for them to perch themselves on a throne of arrogance and indifference. Yet we got the sense that these people really care that their patrons have a good time, before, during and after the game. At the many guest relations stands, they pass out questionnaires asking patrons everything from their opinions on food selection to cleanliness to the overall experience. The courtesy and friendliness of game staff here (excluding Salvationarmyguy) was absolutely outstanding. And the stadium is one of the most spectacular we have seen anywhere. Lastly, in their first season of operation they have established themselves among the best NFL tailgate cities, and that is no small feat. We are proud to designate the Houston Texans and Reliant Stadium among the elite of NFL venues! THANK YOU HOUSTON for making our visit truly extraordinary!!

Ike did do damage
September 18, 2008
Copyright 2008 MediaVentures

Ike did do damage to Reliant Park in Houston where five roof panels were affected. SMG, the company that manages Reliant Park, including Reliant Stadium, hired experts to assess the damage to the roof as well as other parts of the stadium and other properties on the premises. Schedule changes make it possible to move the next game planned for Houston to Oct. 5. (Houston Chronicle)

September 3, 2009
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures

Beers sold at Reliant Stadium in Houston will be four ounces less than last year. The price for the new 20-ounce beers will be the same - $7.75. Officials said the move was a response to the NFL's league-wide effort to cut down on heavy drinking at games and a way to avoid sticking fans with a price hike during tough economic times. Officials said rising wholesale prices would have pushed a 24-ounce Bud or Miller product past $8 at the concession stand.

HARRIS COUNTY MAY HAVE TO SUPPLEMENT STADIUM FUNDS
September 17, 2009
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - County officials may have to go back on a promise made to taxpayers and dip into public money to support bonds used by the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority to build new venues for the region.

The deadline comes in November when a balloon payment on $117 million in bonds comes due. Indications are that about $4 million in additional money will be needed.

The sports authority debt ran into trouble about a year ago when MBIA, a financial firm that insured the variable-rate bonds, was downgraded by investor analysts. The city recently experienced similar problems with about $182 million in variable-rate debt. It avoided heavy charges by using the county as an investor of last resort.

Investors fled from the variable-rate bonds - which represent about 10 percent of the authority's roughly $1 billion in debt sold to finance Reliant Stadium, Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center - about a year ago when MBIA was downgraded in the heat of the financial downturn.

That made it necessary for JP Morgan Chase, the liquidity provider, to buy the bonds and charge the authority 1 percent interest above prime, according to the financing developed for the stadium projects.

JP Morgan's obligation to provide liquidity - essentially act as a temporary holder of the bonds Đ expires soon. At that point, the 30-year bonds will be converted to a loan that must be paid off in five years, requiring the sports authority to pay $12 million every six months. Emmett and Mayor Bill White were unable to persuade JP Morgan to hold off on requiring payment for a year.

The magnitude of that payment would trigger an obscure provision of the financing arrangement, requiring the county to pay $2 million every six months from parking fees collected at Reliant Stadium. The debt service on the bonds currently is paid from revenues generated by the hotel occupancy tax, motor vehicle rental fees, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Houston Texans and other Reliant complex events.

Edwin Harrison, the county's director of financial services, said the county would not use property tax revenues to make the $2 million payments, but he acknowledged the possibility that property taxes may have to be used to cover the $4 million yearly budget gap.

J. Kent Friedman, chairman of the sports authority board, said the authority has $55 million in reserves it can use to pay down the loan, and its revenues are projected to exceed expenses by about $10 million to $12 million annually in the coming years. That will allow the authority to pay the loan without adverse consequences, he said. Although the money available would run out before five years, Friedman said the authority hopes to reissue the debt when the market turns around.

HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY MAY FACE MAJOR REFINANCING
October 15, 2009
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority may need to refinance $1 billion in variable rate debt and pay $142 million ahead of schedule because of lagging tax collections.

The agency, operator of Reliant Stadium for the NFL's Texans, must pay $117 million over the next five years after JPMorgan Chase & Co. demanded accelerated retirement of variable-rate bonds due in November 2030, said J. Kent Friedman, the authority chairman. UBS AG may also get $25 million to unwind a swap designed to offset rising interest rates. The extra costs will push higher annual debt service by $20 million to at least $83.7 million in 2011 from $62.3 million this year.

The authority will meet its increased debt payments by supplementing car-rental and hotel taxes with $55 million in cash reserves and $4 million from annual parking revenue, said Friedman.

Since the 2001 bonds were issued, car-rental and hotel tax revenue has been below estimates, according to financial reports. Auto rental taxes were 16 percent below projections in 2004 and 2006 and collections on lodgings missed estimates by 22 percent in 2004, according to disclosure documents. The shortfalls were caused by fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the closure of an amusement park, according to Orlando Sanchez, the Harris County Treasurer.

Revenue for fiscal 2009 will be $75.2 million, with 29 percent of that from hotel taxes, 28 percent from vehicle rentals and the rest generated by the stadiums and arena, the authority estimated. The total will need to increase to cover debt payments of $83.7 million in 2011.

Government agencies across the county have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to unwind bond-and- swap transactions officials initially said would cut borrowing costs. The deals fell apart when municipal-bond insurers lost their AAA ratings in 2008 and interest rates, instead of climbing, plunged to record lows in the worst credit crisis since the Great Depression.

Houston's stadium authority may be forced to refinance its bonds if car- rental and hotel taxes continue below estimates, Friedman said. With debt service at $62.3 million in 2008, the sports agency collected $79.3 million from all sources, including lodging and auto levies, according to disclosure documents.

From 1998 through 2000, the authority sold $509.7 million of bonds for Reliant. It issued $461.6 million more the next year, including $117 million in variable-rate debt, to partially refinance existing securities and generate additional funds for the stadium.

To make the variable-rate securities eligible for purchase by money-market mutual funds, officials contracted with JPMorgan to act as a buyer of last resort if no purchasers could be found when yields were reset periodically. The authority bought insurance from MBIA Inc. to guarantee payments to investors and reduce borrowing costs by raising the bonds' rating to AAA.

The authority also entered into swap agreements with UBS PaineWebber Inc., part of the Zurich-based bank, on the variable-rate bonds sold in 2001. The contract, an unregulated derivative agreement, was designed to reduce the impact of changes in borrowing costs on the debt, according to county disclosure documents.

Authority officials were informed about risks when they sold debt in 2001, said Michael Bartolotta, Houston-based vice chairman at the agency's adviser, First Southwest Co. The possibility that MBIA's ratings might be cut were disclosed in bond documents, he said.

The authority owes about $430 million on Reliant, said Edwin Harrison, Harris County's director of financial services. The agency started buying insurance on its first bond issues in the late 1990s based on the recommendation of First Southwest.

After MBIA lost its AAA rating last year, money market funds couldn't hold the variable-rate debt, Harrison said.

When no other buyers stepped in as rates reset, JPMorgan demanded that the county pay off in five years the debt that was due in 2030, Bartolotta said. The bank demanded $12 million, twice annually, for five years, beginning Nov. 15, according to Janis Schmees, the authority's executive director.

MBIA's rating cut also triggered the possible termination of the UBS interest-rate swap, according to Friedman. The authority is negotiating with the bank and no decision has been made, he said.

HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY MAY NEED TAXPAYER SUPPORT
October 29, 2009
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - Taxpayers may be called in to help the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority meet its financial obligations for debt incurred in construction of Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center. Estimates say the agency may need up to $7 million a year.

Facing balloon payments on $117 million in variable-rate bonds, the authority now is obliged to pay off the debt in five years instead of 23 years. That would require $24 million a year - a figure that, together with more than $30 million in additional obligations, would push the authority to the brink of insolvency.

The alternative: Convince major banks to provide lines of credit that would give the authority a two-year window to refinance. That would cost $7 million a year.

But those deals would create a new set of problems: The authority would have to take $7 million a year now used for stadium maintenance and the expenses of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation and spend it on repaying the loans. To make up the difference, Harris County may have to pick up some of those expenses with property tax revenue, a step that some say indirectly violates stadium boosters' promise that taxpayer dollars would not be used to pay for the new venues.

Using that $7 million to pay debt would create a budget hole for the convention corporation, one that would have to be filled by Harris County, Sports and Convention Corp. Executive Director Willie Loston said.

The Authority's chairman, however, said taxpayers will not be affected.

The sports authority was set up to manage the $1 billion in voter-approved bonds that financed the construction of Reliant Stadium, Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park.

The authority's debt ran into trouble about a year ago when MBIA, a firm that insured its bonds, was downgraded by analysts. Investors fled from $117 million in variable-rate bonds, forcing the bank JPMorgan Chase to buy them up, under its contractual obligation with the sports authority.

JPMorgan then converted the debt into a loan and, per the contract, required payment in five years instead of 23. Those payments amount to about $24 million a year.

After expenses and debt service, the authority nets about $12 million annually.

In addition, the authority had entered into an interest rate swap on the $117 million with UBS, which allowed the agency to exchange its variable interest rates for fixed ones. When the bonds soured, the swap went awry, creating an obligation for the authority to post $30 million to $35 million in collateral.

Without a lifeline, the two payments, which could total nearly $60 million, would deplete most of the authority's reserve funds and push it toward default.

Because investor ratings firms require bond issuers to hold reserves, depleting them significantly could cause the authority's bond rating, already just one step above junk status, to be downgraded. That would significantly darken the prospects for what authority officials acknowledge is the only long-term solution: refinancing.

Authority officials are pinning their hopes on a pair of potential deals. The first would be a line of credit with JPMorgan to cover the $117 million. The second is another line of credit with UBS that would allow the authority to avoid paying the collateral on the swap.

Both deals would greatly smooth out the authority's financial challenges. But they also would force Harris County to grapple with an unexpected $7 million-a-year budget hole.

To make the deals work, the authority would need to pledge more of the money from parking fees, the Houston Texans and the Houston Rodeo at Reliant Stadium for debt service. Currently, that money is used by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation for operating expenses and stadium maintenance.

Jack Yuran, director of financial planning in Harris County, said he and other officials are trying to come up with a way to free up additional hotel tax funds to make it possible for their use by the sports corporation.

One possibility under consideration is to move stadium utility costs - usually around $11 million a year - from the HOT tax budget into the tax-supported general fund or a special revenue fund, Yuran said.

Numerous county and authority officials insisted that the use of property tax funds to pay for expenses that were covered by money that will now go toward stadium debt does not represent a breach of the promises made to taxpayers.

February 25, 2010
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures

The managers of Reliant Stadium are seeking money to install a truck-bomb barrier near the facility's Kirby Drive entrance. A letter from Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation Chairman Edgardo Colon describes it as "capable of stopping a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling 50 miles an hour with the intent to harm fans inside the stadium." The plan is not a response to a specific threat against the stadium, Colon said. The new security perimeter would replace a series of concrete barriers that have to be set up and taken down for each Texans game and other major events. The change primarily is an aesthetic upgrade and one that saves on the labor costs of erecting temporary barriers, officials said.

HARRIS COUNTY GIVES $2 MILLION TO SPORTS AUTHORITY
September 23, 2010
Copyright 2010 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - Harris County commissioners have approved $2 million for the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. so it can make payments on its debts, according to the Houston Chronicle. The county transferred another $2 million earlier this year to help the agency meet payments.

The potential consequences of transferring $4 million from county coffers became evident at the same Commissioners Court meeting at which it was approved, according to the Chronicle.

Dick Raycraft, the county's budget officer, put the brakes on Commissioner Steve Radack's proposal to give $75,000 in hotel tax money to arts organizations. Radack spontaneously offered the money after arts administrators made the latest in a months-long string of pleas for the restoration of a funding cut earlier this year.

"We'll have to check to see how much money we do have," Raycraft told Radack. He acknowledged the money was budgeted and could be used at Radack's discretion, but said, "Whether or not the cash is there, that's another question," the newspaper reported.

Asked whether transferring county money to stadium debt is impacting county services, Emmett said, "Not yet."

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority carries about $1 billion in debt on the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park and Reliant Stadium.

Its schedule to pay off bonds on Reliant Park changed about a year ago after MBIA, a firm that insured those bonds, was downgraded by analysts. The Chronicle said investors fled from $117 million in variable-rate bonds, forcing the bank JPMorgan Chase to buy them up, under a contractual obligation with the Sports Authority. JPMorgan then converted the debt into a loan and, per the contract, required payment in five years instead of 23.

That caused the Sports Authority's debt payments to balloon. The Sports & Convention Corporation's agreement with the Authority for the use of Reliant Park includes a clause in which the Corporation pledges to cover $4 million in annual debt payments if the Authority's revenue from hotel and car-rental taxes and parking fees falls short, the newspaper reported.

The Sports & Convention Corporation never had to deliver on its nine-year-old pledge until this year. The money comes out of the budget it uses to pay its maintenance and operations bills, prompting the Corporation to ask the county for the money.

"The county, basically, backstops our operations by covering any of our operational deficits or losses that we have," Willie Loston, executive director of the Corporation, told the Chronicle.

Loston said the problem is not a debt crisis so much as a cash-flow problem. While it is difficult to meet the steeper debt payments, he explained, when the accelerated debt payments end in four years, the Authority might be able to start reimbursing the county.

TEXANS CHANGE TAILGATING POLICIES
October 7, 2010
Copyright 2010 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - The Houston Texans are restricting access to their parking lots for pre-game tailgating to those who hold tickets to the game, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans said the announcement was prompted by a gradual increase in the number of non-ticketed fans that began to build in earnest last year and culminated with 20,000 additional people jamming lots, streets and highways during the team's game against the Cowboys.

"We started counting halfway through last year, and it was between 4,000 and 5,000 per game," John Schriever, the team's vice president for ticketing and event services, told the Chronicle. "By the end of the year, it was 8,000. It was 10,000 for the preseason game with the Cowboys and for the (season opener) against the Colts, and then it grew to Sunday's crowd."

One reason for the dramatic growth, Schriever said, was the unexpected availability of several thousand parking spaces on the former site of Astroworld, south of the county-owned Reliant Park.

"That changed the dynamic considerably," Schriever said. "We saw people walking onto the property with tents and coolers, and that hadn't happened to such a degree. So we wanted to be responsible and to take care of our season-ticket holders and paying customers."

Schriever said the number of tailgating passes could increase to more than 2,000 per game. Some season-ticket holders didn't waste time putting their new tailgating passes up for sale. The Chronicle found three lots available on eBay, with a top price of $25 per ticket, and three more lots were available on Craigslist, with a top price of $99 per ticket. A local ticket broker said his company would have tickets for sale on Saturday.

The decision to sell tailgating passes to season-ticket holders is apparently unique among NFL teams, few of which face a problem similar to the Texans because their parking lots are much smaller than the 26,000 spaces spread across Reliant Park.

In Chicago, where the city parks department controls about 7,000 spaces around Soldier Field, tailgating is prohibited once games begin, and fans on the lot are required to stay in their vehicles. But other area lots provide unrestricted tailgating, the Chronicle reported.

In Phoenix, fans are asked to stop tailgating at game time. But the team allows fans to remain on the lot if, for example, they are sharing tickets with other fans and want to changes places at halftime.

In San Diego, Qualcomm Stadium general manager Mike McSweeney told the Houston newspaper that police and security officers patrol parking lots during the game and will ask tailgaters to leave if they do not have a game ticket. He said fans can tailgate during the game if they have tickets, but few do so.

RESERVES NEEDED TO MEET HOUSTON VENUE DEBT NEEDS
November 18, 2010
Copyright 2010 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - The Houston Chronicle says The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority is short $5 million on a debt service payment for Reliant Stadium, prompting it to dip into its reserves to cover the bill.

It marks the first time the Sports Authority has had to draw on its $56 million reserve account to meet a debt obligation, signaling that the authority is not bringing in enough money to make its payments, the newspaper said.

Those payments surged last year after the downgrade of its bond insurer and the subsequent demand by JPMorgan that the authority pay off in five years debt that had been due by 2030.

Simultaneously, the authority's income has declined. More than half its $72 million in annual receipts come from hotel-motel occupancy taxes and car rental taxes. The Chronicle said economic downturn has reduced how much the authority takes in from those sources.

Sports Authority board chairman J. Kent Friedman described the problem as a short-term cash-flow crunch.

"That's why we have the reserve, to deal with stuff like this. It doesn't cause me any concern at all," he told the newspaper.

Friedman said paying off a 30-year mortgage in five years could produce a windfall.

"The savings on that is staggering" as the authority avoids years of interest payments, Friedman said. "The Sports Authority, and, by extension, the community, will be a lot better off if we can pay these bonds off early."

Rating agencies Moody's and Standard and Poor's have downgraded most of the Sports Authority's debt to junk bond status. For the first time this year, the authority had to call in a $4 million contractual pledge that the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. - the landlord of Reliant Park - had made but never had to deliver on. The corporation does not have the money and had to be bailed out by the county to cover this year's payments.

The Chronicle said the authority must pay $12 million twice a year to cover the payments on $125 million in variable rate bonds used to construct Reliant's roof, the Texans' practice bubble and extra parking. November's installment is the third of 10 inflated payments and the first that required the authority to draw upon its reserves.

HOUSTON AUTHORITY SEEKS LOAN MODIFICATIONS
February 17, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority has asked for more time and lower installments to pay back a county loan used for the Texans' practice facility and additional parking around Reliant Stadium, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The debt goes back 10 years, to when the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. - the county's landlord for Reliant Park - borrowed $19.1 million from Texans owner Robert McNair to buy the land for the practice field and parking spaces.

The Sports Authority, created by the city and county to manage $1 billion in public debt on Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center, agreed to back up the corporation with loan payments - if it had money left over from stadium and ballpark debt payments.

When the McNair loan came due five years later, neither the corporation nor the authority had the money, the newspaper said.

The authority asked the Harris County Commissioners Court for help. The court came through with $26.5 million in toll road collections, which the authority used to pay McNair.

The Chronicle said the authority's first payment to the county is due this month. On Jan. 25, however, Sports Authority executive director Janis Schmees asked commissioners for flexibility.

The authority collects $5.2 million in rent from the Rockets annually. It used that money to make payments on the Toyota Center parking garage until it was paid off last August. The authority now plans to channel that money toward the Toll Road Authority loan. Schmees had asked the court for permission to hold back $500,000 a year to cover operating expenses for the next five years, with a promise to repay all of the money with interest by 2020.

The Chronicle said the Sports Authority's cash squeeze results from the 2008 downgrade of its insurer for more than $100 million in stadium bonds.

Under the financing developed for the stadium, the bonds were purchased and converted to a bank loan due in five years, resulting in massive increases in debt payments. Meanwhile, hotel room and car rental taxes declined because of the national recession.

"The $26 million should have never been loaned from the Toll Road Authority to the Sports Authority. All that is doing is putting the taxpayers on the hook," former tax assessor and Sports Authority critic Paul Bettencourt told the newspaper. If the authority defaults, he said, the county may not be able to recover the toll road money.

"When you loan people money who don't have money, you'll end up holding the bag at the end of the day," Bettencourt said.

Although the state Transportation Code limits the expenditure of money taken in by the Harris County Toll Road Authority to transportation-related uses, there are no such restrictions on lending toll money, Douglas Ray, an assistant county attorney, confirmed to the newspaper. From a legal perspective, the loan is an investment, he said.

The Toll Road Authority will get a seven percent annual return on its investment per the terms of the loan. At present, the Toll Road Authority is to receive payments from the Sports Authority totaling $47 million in principal and interest. The amended schedule proposed by the Sports Authority would add a year and $1.5 million in interest.

HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY CHALLENGES LOAN TERMINATION
April 21, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

Houston, Texas - Lawyers for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and MBIA now are disputing whether Swiss bank UBS gave proper notice of its intent to terminate an interest-rate swap agreement that would require a $27 million payment, the Houston Chronicle reported.

If the procedure is upheld, the authority might have to dip into its reserves to meet the obligation.

The deal was intended to control interest-rate spikes on the $125 million in variable-rate bonds the authority issued to help build Reliant Stadium. The authority's other $875 million in debt is on a fixed rate.

The authority's main reserve account today holds about $51 million, Executive Director Janis Schmees told the Chronicle; the payment to UBS would come from that account.

Schmees said neither the payment nor a default by the authority would affect the average citizen or sports fan. The authority, a quasi-governmental entity whose unpaid board members are appointed by the city and county, was created to finance the stadiums, in part, so the city and county's credit ratings would not be at risk in the event of financial trouble.

The state law establishing the authority prohibits property taxes from being used for the "operation, maintenance, renovation, or repair" of any voter-approved stadium, including Reliant Stadium, Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center. The authority is funded primarily by taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals and by rent paid on the stadiums.

Those revenues and MBIA's credit are the collateral for the authority's debts, Schmees said, not the stadiums or the land under them.

The newspaper said the situation on paper has deteriorated, particularly for Harris County, which owns the Reliant complex and supports it with hotel tax revenues. The authority services the debt on Reliant Stadium.

When MBIA was downgraded, JPMorgan Chase bought the authority's $125 million in variable-rate bonds - the same bonds covered by the UBS swap - and demanded they be paid off by 2014 instead of the original 2030.

The authority's payments soared, prompting it to call in a county pledge of $4 million in annual parking revenues; the county also risked losing $3.28 million a year in miscellaneous revenues, such as ticket taxes, that previously had gone to support the Reliant complex. The resulting hole at the Reliant complex was filled with hotel tax revenues, the newspaper said.

The situation is not sustainable, County Judge Ed Emmett told the Chronicle. Earlier this month, Emmett noted that the hotel tax fund had a negative balance and would remain in the red in the coming years.

County Finance Director Jack Yuran said the issue is a cash-flow problem and that the hotel tax fund can go negative because it is pooled with other funds. Emmett and Commissioner Steve Radack said they believe the account should be self-sufficient and not rely on "accounting tricks" to meet its obligations.

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