Smith is also probably the largest single landowner of municipal or suburban real estate in Texas, making it virtually impossible to expand Houston in any direction without running into R. E. Smith property. As partners, Smith and Hofheinz have been involved in some of the most ambitious building projects in Houston's explosive history. Of all these ventures, however, none means more to Hofheinz than the all-weather stadium. "When completed," he says, "it will antiquate every other structure of this type in the world." With some enjoyment he notes that the New York Mets' Flushing Meadow Stadium, also scheduled for 1963 completion, and Walter O'Malley's Chavez Ravine will fall within this antiquated class.
The great domed roof, made up of rectangular panels of translucent plastic, 3 feet by 6 feet in size and set into steel girders, will rise 200 feet above the playing field, high enough to tuck the 18-story Shamrock Hilton inside. No pop fly or towering outfield drive will ever touch the roof. Distrusting the figures of O'Malley, who once conducted a test with baseball's best fungo hitter, Ed Roebuck, and decided on 176 feet as the maximum trajectory of a batted ball, Hofheinz made his own tests. He took some ballplayers out to a blimp base and had them swing away. Several baseballs ticked the steel framework at 160 feet but none touched the 170-foot ceiling itself.
Hofheinz, an expressively profane man, admits that "we had a hell of a problem with filtration of the sun's rays. We had to design a roof that would transmit enough light to grow grass but opaque enough to diffuse any heat not absolutely necessary for the growth of the grass. Then we had to find a special grass. Until I got into this thing, I didn't know there was anything but Johnson grass."
The air-conditioning system was designed to reduce temperatures at least 15 degrees from a maximum anticipated temperature of 95, even though most of the games will be played in the relatively cool hours of evening. With a sellout baseball crowd of 46,000, the system must move 6,250 tons of air. The great blowers are so strong that Warren Spahn of the Braves views them with even more than a left-hander's normal distrust. "When we're at bat, you'll have the wind blowing in," he accused Hofheinz. "When we're in the field, you'll make it blow out." Hofheinz grins around his corona cigar. "Actually," he says, "we can do better than that. If we're behind in the top of the fifth, all we have to do is turn off the air conditioners and it begins to rain." Because it really will rain, the air-conditioning system must operate all year round, although something less than 1,000 tons' displacement is enough for unoccupied days.
Hofheinz doesn't anticipate many unoccupied days. "The Oilers will play here in the fall," he says. "For football, the stadium will seat 53,000; we push a button and in five minutes 10,500 field boxes move over to the sidelines." The stadium capacity is increased to 66,000 for fights, and Houston has already shown promise of developing into a sizzling fight town. "We'll have circuses here, too," says Hofheinz, "and rodeos and stage spectaculars." A national political convention? "We have already bid for both in 1964."
Hofheinz and the scientists were concerned about smoke. "No group smokes more than a fight crowd," he says. "Particularly cigars. So we made density and visibility tests in boxing arenas over a year. Then we got together with Minneapolis-Honeywell. They created artificial smoke of various densities, and through the smoke we projected Lew Fonseca's World Series film. We tested filter components until we could take every smoke particle out of the air. This is ad absurdum, of course; this is the problem scientists face in laboratories and it doesn't apply to a sports crowd. We only wanted to arrive at the point where people were comfortable and could see." After watching the Yankees demolish the Reds for 10 straight hours one day, they settled on the degree of clarity required.
The stadium is a spectator's dream. Twelve access roads, handling 70 lanes of traffic, will clear the 25,000-car parking lot in 20 minutes, less than half the time required for fewer cars at O'Malley's Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, according to Hofheinz. "A matter of scientific measurement," he says complacently, "not a guess." Although the stadium has six levels, it can be completely emptied in nine minutes flat. And because the playing field is 25 feet below ground level, the maximum rise on any ramp is 34 feet. "You can walk down to virtually every seat," Hofheinz says. "This is partially a matter of convenience for the spectators, of course, but we are also aware of the status symbol of walk-down seats."
Some 26,000 box seats will be of the foam rubber theater type; in fact there are no bad seats. No posts or pillars or supporting columns mar the view, and the design is such that each spectator will feel that he is looking straight toward the center of the diamond, a few feet behind second base. "Optical illusion," Hofheinz explains succinctly.
The seats themselves will be color-coded, as will the tickets: six levels, six basic colors, each section of each level a gradation of that basic color. "A person that gets lost in this stadium will have to be color-blind or an idiot," says Hofheinz. "For those, we will have ushers, beautiful ones. And they won't have their hands out for tips."
The stadium will cost $15 million to build; the land ($3 million) and roads ($4 million) account for the remainder of the walloping $22 million bond issue. The Houston Sports Association has signed a 40-year lease agreeing to amortize the cost of the bonds and also to pay all operating expenses. Aside from personnel, it will cost $10,500 a day to run the stadium. "Where baseball is concerned," says Hofheinz, "my only question is whether the stadium will produce 250,000 extra customers a year. That's an average of about 3,000 extra customers for each home date. If you were assured comfort and convenience such as this and a guarantee against rain-outs, even on the most miserable day, what would you do? You'd go to the ball game, just as sure as there's a pig in Texas. I've already bet almost two years of my life and several dollars on that."