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Astrodome sale draws long lines, long waits for memorabilia

David Barro, Houston Chronicle
Updated 8:56 pm, Saturday, November 2, 2013

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  • Before the madness began, these Astrodome workers were sorting through all the items up for grabs on Nov. 2. See the crowds who lined up to grab their piece of Astrodome history and the items that went on sale. (Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle) Photo: Johnny Hanson, Houston Chronicle
    Before the madness began, these Astrodome workers were sorting through all the items up for grabs on Nov. 2. See the crowds who lined up to grab their piece of Astrodome history and the items that went on sale. 

    (Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle)
    Photo: Johnny Hanson, Houston Chronicle

 

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A sale and auction of memorabilia from the iconic Astrodome Saturday drew thousands of people, some of whom waited in line for hours.

Ted Nelkin, whose family owned a sports memorabilia store in Houston for decades and formerly operated a trading card store at the Astrodome, waited more than 11 hours in line and left with a receipt for two pairs of seats, which he was told he could pick up in December.

The manner in which the sale was conducted was "the worst," Nelkin said.

"I've got nothing good to say about it," he said. "They could have cared less that we were there. It was 'If you want your seats, you will wait in line as long as it takes.' We were kept in the dark and had no idea of what to expect."

Nostalgic fans started lining up around 5 a.m., three hours before the sale was set to begin at the adjacent Reliant Center.

Nelkin said he was told that organizers ran out of Astroturf pieces at 11 a.m. and ran out of physical seats that had been removed from the Dome by 2 p.m., forcing buyers to receive receipts for seats to pick up next month.

And as for the printer that workers were using to print those receipts, he said, "It looked like it came from the Dome days."

Mark Miller, Reliant Park's general manager, said sale organizers expected about 1,500 people to show up but that the actual crowd was six to eight times that size.

"I apologize to everyone for the wait," he said. "The sentiment for this building is just overwhelming. But the crowd was very cordial and very understanding, and we had no real issues."

Hours of standing in line made for friendly conversation, said Nelkin.

"They (sale organizers) got lucky," he said. "It was a nice group of people. We traded email addresses and talked about fantasy football. It would have taken just one person shoving another person and him shoving another person, and you would have had a riot. But it was a really nice group."

Miller said Reliant Park consulted with the group that handled the sale of seats and other items from Yankee Stadium and were told that "there was some initial demand but that it tapered off very quickly."

Organizers planned accordingly, he said, and were shocked by the crowds that showed up early Saturday morning.

"We were going to feel good if we had sold 500 pairs of seats," Miller said. Instead, organizers sold 900 pairs and accepted orders for another 1,500 pairs.

Miller said Reliant Park will conduct an online auction starting at noon Nov. 15 for customers who were unable to get to the Saturday morning sale. Plenty of seats remain, he said, but he is unsure how much Astroturf, if any, remains available.

Details on the online sale will be announced later.

A key vote on the Astrodome's future takes place Tuesday. A referendum asks voters to authorize up to $217 million in bonds to turn the stadium into a convention center and exhibition space. Harris County officials have said that if the ballot initiative fails they likely would seek to demolish the dilapidated facility.

Cindy Horswell contributed.