Superdome upgrade plan wins passage after years of haggling

Published 5:34 pm Friday, December 17, 2021

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — More than two years after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Louisiana would help pay for renovations to the New Orleans Superdome, officials Thursday finally agreed to a financing deal that will have the state contributing up to $54 million toward the improvements.

The state will use $27 million in federal coronavirus pandemic aid and $27 million already authorized through the state construction budget to put up 12% of the $450 million total cost of the domed stadium upgrades.

“It will be, quite frankly, I think a better relationship” for the state and the New Orleans Saints, said Senate President Page Cortez, a Lafayette Republican. He added: “The Saints have been very fair in the negotiations here.”

The joint House and Senate budget committee and the state Bond Commission agreed Thursday to critical pieces of the deal, the spending of the federal money and a companion plan to let the Superdome manager pay off a debt to the state years early.

Both approvals came without objection after the agreement had been hammered out in behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Edwards administration, Treasurer John Schroder, legislative leaders and the Saints.

“It’s been a long haul,” said Schroder, the Republican chairman of the Bond Commission.

Edwards described the state’s agreement to pay for a share of the stadium improvements as critical to keeping the NFL team in New Orleans for decades.

“This is important for the state in order to keep that venue competitive,” the Democratic governor said.

The final deal will have the state paying less than the $90 million originally proposed for its contribution, and that could drop even further.

The $27 million in federal pandemic assistance would be returned to the state if hotel/motel tax dollars allocated to the Superdome oversight board, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, rebound to certain levels by 2023. Those levels remain to be negotiated and set into legislation in the regular session, Cortez said.

The $450 million in upgrades to the nearly 50-year-old iconic stadium in downtown New Orleans include expanded club and suite levels, new concession stands, viewing decks and other improvements. The renovations began in 2020 and are expected to wrap up before the Super Bowl scheduled to be held in the Superdome in February 2025.

The improvements were announced by Edwards in August 2019, aimed at keeping the Saints in New Orleans through 2055. Louisiana’s current lease with the NFL team was set to expire in 2025, though Saints owner Gayle Benson has pledged to keep the club in New Orleans long-term.

As part of the stadium financing deal approved Thursday, the Saints have committed to sign an agreement locking the NFL club into staying in New Orleans through 2035, with four five-year extension options through 2055 if the full Superdome renovations are completed.

“I think it’s a very reasonable and fair resolution,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser.

The reworked Superdome improvement financing deal keeps the Saints at the original plan of putting up $150 million while the share from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District increases to $246 million.

Legislative leaders balked at a prior financing plan that had the state paying $90 million, including the forgiveness of a bond debt owed to the state. Instead, under the deal approved Thursday, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District will pay off the debt to the state in a lump sum of $28 million, rather than seeing it forgiven.

Meanwhile, the Saints organization has agreed to reduce the rent charged of state agencies in an office building owned by Benson to market value, rather than the higher-than-average lease arrangements that had been in place, Dardenne said.