AP Source: Saints agree to Superdome lease
By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
7 hours, 52 minutes ago
Buzz up!5 votes PrintNEW ORLEANS (AP)—The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a lease extension that will keep the NFL team playing home games in an improved Louisiana Superdome through the 2025 season.
An announcement by Saints owner Tom Benson and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Superdome.
A person with direct knowledge of lease negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press that a general agreement has been reached and was expected to be signed later in the week after final details have been worked out. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team and governor had yet to make the announcement.
Benson and Jindal wanted a long-term extension in place by this spring to improve New Orleans’ bid to host the 2013 Super Bowl.
It would be the city’s 10th Super Bowl and the seventh in the Superdome, an iconic, 34-year-old structure that has hosted some of the nation’s most memorable sporting events, world famous musical acts and even the late Pope John Paul II.
On Wednesday, a video presentation of the proposed deal was shown in Baton Rouge to state legislators, who will have to approve the new lease. Afterward, state Sen. John Alario said the complex deal would cap direct state cash payments to the NFL team at about $6 million a year.
Alario, D-Westwego, a powerful New Orleans area lawmaker, said the state could pay even less than $6 million each year, depending on how much money the Saints get from other income sources.
The arrangement would be far less than the $23.5 million the state is slated pay the Saints annually in a direct cash subsidy over next three years.
The deal would save the state $281 million between 2010 and 2025 compared to what the state would have paid if the current deal had been extended, a person close to the negotiations said.
The state will be giving money to Benson in other ways, however.
The state has agreed to spend $85 million in improvements to the Superdome and to lease office space for local state agencies at a downtown property Benson has an agreement to buy.
The property, next to the stadium, has been abandoned since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and was known as the Dominion Tower and the New Orleans Centre mall.
Improvements to the dome—such as expanded field-level seating, new exclusive lounges, additional suites and more concession stands—are expected to create more moneymaking opportunities for the team.
The state will pay more than $6 million a year to rent the office space, a parking garage and the mall, where plans call for a plaza that could host outdoor concerts and also house bars, restaurants and shops.
The Saints have agreed to give back a combined $10.5 million out of the three remaining $23.5 million state payments so the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District can use that money for redevelopment projects in the abandoned mall. Once the projects are finished, the LSED will keep the revenues generated by events using that space.
Cash subsidies totaling $186.5 million over 10 years were part of the current lease that took effect in 2001. That lease ran through 2018, but once the subsidies ended following the 2010 season, the Saints would have had the right to leave by paying a $15 million penalty.
While it remains up to Benson and Jindal to sign off on the new deal, chief negotiators included Saints vice president and chief financial officer Dennis Lauscha, LSED chairman Ron Forman and SMG senior vice president Doug Thornton.
Thornton, whose company manages the Superdome and neighboring New Orleans Arena for the state, was the force behind the unprecedented nine-month rebuilding of the dome after Hurricane Katrina, which allowed the Saints to return for the 2006 season.
The initial rebuilding of the Superdome included replacement of the roof, cleaning and gutting of much of the building, and the rebuilding of suites and club lounges. This year, floor-to-ceiling windows were installed in the stadium’s four club lounges. Ongoing improvements include the addition of escalators that will bring club ticket holders directly from a public plaza into the lounges, and new siding. The costs for all the repairs and improvements so far total about $220 million.
The new extension calls for replacing field level seating so it hugs the rectangular contours of the football field, as opposed to its current, semi-oval layout. The change will add about 3,000 seats. New lounges will be added under lower sideline seats.
The lower concourse will be widened by more than double so concession stands may be added and bathrooms expanded. The press box would be moved from the suite level to the upper deck, allowing for more suites or premium seating.
The changes would benefit not just the Saints, but also the Sugar Bowl, Tulane football, the Bayou Classic featuring Grambling State and Southern, and other major events slated for the building, including the college basketball men’s Final Four in 2012.
The Saints contend additional revenues are necessary in small-market New Orleans, which lacks the big business headquarters on which many major professional teams rely for sponsorships and suite sales. The state never debated that, but looked to wean the team off of the large direct cash subsidies agreed upon in the 2001 lease.
During the administration of then-Gov. Mike Foster, the state hoped it would have the cash to pay the Saints’ annual subsidies based on projected hotel tax revenues in the New Orleans area. Those projections, made before the 9/11 terrorist attacks hurt tourism, wound up being far too optimistic. Since then, Katrina and now the current economic recession have provided further blows, and the state repeatedly has been forced to dig into general funds to meet its financial obligations to the Saints.
In the current economic climate, state officials saw a chance to compromise by improving the state-owned Superdome. That way, the Saints—who do not pay rent and unlike many pro clubs are not burdened by stadium debt service—could have an opportunity to greatly increase net revenue. Saints games at the dome have sold out all three seasons since the team’s return.
At the same time, the city would get a downtown high-rise back in business and the state would have the benefit of an improved stadium that serves as an engine for its tourism industry. Finally, the deal will not require any new taxes.
Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.
Dome sweet dome: New Orleans gets 2013 Super Bowl
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – New Orleans is a Super Bowl city again.
NFL owners voted Tuesday to play the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans, the first time the championship will be played there since Hurricane Katrina shredded parts of the Louisiana Superdome. The hurricane caused 1,600 deaths and devastated the Gulf Coast four years ago.
New Orleans beat out Miami, which sought a record 11th Super Bowl, and 2008 host Glendale, Ariz. This is the 10th time New Orleans will be the Super Bowl site.
"We're just thrilled about what's going on," Saints owner Tom Benson said. "We're getting a new Superdome. Now we're going to get a Super Bowl on top of that. It couldn't be any more exciting than that."
New Orleans last hosted in 2002, when Adam Viniateri's 48-yard field goal as time expired lifted New England over St. Louis.
Benson said he was congratulated by the owners, even those who saw Super Bowl bids for their city get voted down.
"All are great Super Bowl cities," said Rita Benson LeBlanc, a part-owner of the Saints and Tom Benson's granddaughter. "But no city has been through more than New Orleans. ... This is just a true testament to what an entire community can do."
Still unclear: Where will the 2013 Pro Bowl be played? It's coming to Miami a week before this coming season's Super Bowl, then going back to Hawaii in 2011 and 2012. It was not part of the bidding process for the 2013 Super Bowl.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross congratulated New Orleans, yet also said he was "disappointed" that the 2013 game won't be coming to South Florida. Shortly after the vote was announced, local organizers said South Florida was hopeful of bidding in 2014 as well.
"I think South Florida is the best place for the Super Bowl," Ross said. "In my opinion, it should be here permanently."
Louisiana lawmakers are debating plans to spend $85 million in Superdome upgrades, which would be completed in time for the 2013 NFL title game. The upgrades would include additional seating, new suites, wider concourses and other measures for the New Orleans Saints to generate new revenue streams.
"The membership heard from three great cities today and had some terrific alternatives," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "But I think this is a great statement about the spirit and people of New Orleans and the great relationship the Saints and the NFL have in that community."
The Superdome played an iconic role during Katrina, which struck the city in August 2005. It was an evacuation center during the storm, housing thousands of people who had nowhere else to go. Within days, the building was tattered, filthy inside from mold, debris and raw sewage.
The Saints needed to leave their home city, then returned to great fanfare in September 2006 — a night many in New Orleans point to as perhaps the most poignant sign that normalcy was returning.
"(That) had an emotional impact on this city that carried the hearts of New Orleanians for the next two years," said J. Stephen Perry, the president of the New Orleans metropolitan convention and visitors bureau. "And this announcement today, I will tell you, will have jubilation in the streets."
The stories of suffering are still everywhere. Even now, some who lost nearly everything in 2005 are fighting to keep their federally provided trailers a bit longer.
Still, New Orleans clearly didn't forget how to host an event. College football's national championship game was played there in 2008, followed about six weeks later by the NBA All-Star game — and now football's biggest spectacle.
"This is a huge win for New Orleans, but also the entire state of Louisiana," Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
Arizona also failed in bids for the 2011 and 2012 Super Bowls, which were awarded to new stadiums in North Texas and Indianapolis.
Cities mentioned as hopefuls for the 2014 Super Bowl include Tampa, Fla., and London, which will host a regular-season game for the third straight season when New England plays Tampa Bay on Oct. 25. London officials have been briefed on the Super Bowl bidding process, but the NFL has repeatedly said no serious talks about an international Super Bowl have taken place.