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AstroWorld Taking Off With A Rocketship Full Of Memories

HOUSTON (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — According to the Houston Chronicle and the Associated Press, before there was a Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, the outdoor concert venue was Southern Star Amphitheatre at AstroWorld.

Here's a short list of the major acts that played the big pasture behind the screaming roller coasters:

Air Supply, Paul Young, Heart, Dire Straits, Grateful Dead, Wham!, Tears for Fears, Neil Young, Beach Boys, AC/DC, Starship — all in 1985. And in '86, Simple Minds, Bangles, Robert Palmer, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, the Monkees, Depeche Mode, Julian Lennon, Santana, Eurythmics, R.E.M. and the Moody Blues. Chicago performed in 1989, followed in the early '90s by Wilson Phillips, Reba McEntire and Selena.

Yes, the great poet Bob Dylan played an amusement park in Houston.

Other amusement parks exist but aren't the same as Houston's AstroWorld, said die-hards who visited the park on its final weekend before closing its rides for good last Sunday after 37 years.

AstroWorld was about more than the rides, many said Saturday.

It's about memories their families created and the stories most everyone who visited the park shared about long-standing rides, such as Greezed Lightnin' and the fabled Texas Cyclone, which earned AstroWorld a special place in the hearts of 41-year-old Larry Nelson and others like him.

"It's sad," Nelson said of the park's closing. "Our childhood was here. This was everything to us. It was always a place we could count on to go and have a great time. It is going to be missed sorely."

Oklahoma-based Six Flags, Inc., which has operated the park since 1975, plans to sell the 109-acre site rather than make additional investments during a time of dwindling attendance, Six Flags Chief Executive Kieran Burke said in a statement. The company said it wanted to enhance shareholder value at a time when the company is more than $2 billion in debt.

"We have had a great run with AstroWorld," Burke said. "The site has great potential for economic development."

Jeff Peden, a director at Cushman and Wakefield of Texas, the real estate firm handling the sale, said the land could bring between $95 and $142 million. He says once the 109 acres is sold, it likely will be parceled out, resold and developed for a myriad of uses.

Property values in the area have doubled over the last five years with the addition of a rail line that runs from downtown Houston through the Texas Medical Center and ends at Reliant Park, home to Reliant Stadium across the street from AstroWorld.

The park opened in 1968 after developer and politician Roy Hofheinz overcame criticism three years earlier when he successfully helped develop the first domed stadium — the Astrodome, which lured a major league baseball team to Houston.

Many thought a team would never thrive in the city's hot, humid, mosquito infested climate, said son, Fred Hofheinz, who followed in his father's footsteps to serve as Houston's mayor.

"The idea was we were going to build a fully air conditioned amusement park," Hofheinz said. "So we built one big, gigantic … air conditioning compressor out there. And built a pipe all the way around the original 50-acre park."

Hofheinz said air-conditioned outdoor lines attracted a lot of people during Houston's hot summers when temperatures can reach into the high 90s with parallel humidity levels. As the years went on, ceiling fans and water misters were added to help keep visitors cool.