Editor’s note: Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has held more elected offices than any other active elected official in San Antonio. He served as mayor of San Antonio from 1991-95, holding that office when the Alamodome was opened May 15, 1993 — 20 years ago this week.
Wolff also is the author of two books, including “Mayor: An Inside View of San Antonio Politics, 1981-1995,” that contains additional material on construction and opening of the Alamodome and the politics of “Dome dirt.”
By Nelson Wolff
I served on the City Council during the time that former Mayor Henry Cisneros began to put together his plans to build a dome stadium. I supported him in all his efforts.
Cisneros first got the legislation passed giving authority for the use of VIA’s sales tax to build the Alamodome. City Council spent months determining the timing of calling an election. The proposed election of May 1988 was delayed to September 1988 and then finally called on January 21, 1989. Voters passed it with 53 % of the vote.
After I became mayor in 1991 I was faced with actually building the Alamodome. Because it was born in controversy it would only intensify during the time we were actually constructing it.
Contaminated soil bred a political nightmare for me. The ‘Dome was built on a former industrial site, Alamo Iron Works. Experts advised us to dig up the contaminated soil and then bury it on site in an impermeable clay lined pit south of the dome structure — a plan the Texas Water Commission approved.
The plan caused a political firestorm led by then State Rep. Karyne Jones Conley. Under the banner of “environmental racism,” protests were held on site and at City Hall. A test by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission later found no hazardous exposed soils or any health threat. Later under political pressure they changed their minds.
One day I stepped out from City Hall right into the middle of one of their protests. It surprised them when I announced we would dig up the soil and haul it away.
In the meantime, lawsuits broke out between the City and Alamo Iron Works and several of the contractors. Finally settlements were made with several of the contractors paying for a portion of the cost to remove the soil. But still the city incurred the cost of $9.4 million, including $3 million in legal fees.
The design of the Alamodome came under criticism, some calling it “four telephone poles on an airplane hangar.” Others called it an upside down armadillo.
Every day was fraught with controversy. But finally when we opened the Alamodome on May 15, 1993, most of the controversy died down. We had a grand time at the opening and thousands of people came to view the ‘Dome.
We had numerous events, including opening up with the U.S. Olympic Festival followed by a Paul McCartney concert. The Alamodome has been a tremendous success over the years, vindicating the vision of former Mayor Henry Cisneros.