Louisiana gives green light to Superdome renovation

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has hailed the State Bond Commission’s approval of plans to finance renovations to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, stating the news represents the first step in locking down the future of NFL American football franchise the Saints at the stadium.

First reported in May, the $450m (£370.1m/€406.3m) renovation is designed to keep the Saints at the Superdome for the foreseeable future and ensure that the stadium keeps pace with the new facilities being developed across the NFL.

The State Bond Commission yesterday (Thursday) gave the green light to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED), which oversees the Superdome for the state, to sell up to $350m in bonds to fund the project. The approval follows several months of talks and Edwards said in a statement: “The first major step happened today (Thursday) when the State Bond Commission approved financing for the LSED.

“I appreciate the Bond Commission’s support for this project, which I believe is necessary to keep the Superdome competitive for decades to come. The state has committed $90m to this project, over the course of several years, and I am confident we will be able to meet this obligation.

“Following today’s action, I believe that in short order, we will finalise a long-term lease extension that keeps the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome for many years to come. This is good economic news for the city and our state. Keeping the Saints Home at the Dome will be cause for celebration for current and future generations of Who Dats.”

Owned by the state, the 73,208-seat Superdome first opened in 1975 and its last major renovation came with a $376m project to fix the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Saints are currently committed to the Superdome through to 2025 and NOLA.com said the team and LSED are shortly expected to sign a memorandum of understanding to extend the stadium lease allowing work on the first phase of the renovation to commence early next year.

The initial phase will reportedly cost $100m and involve the replacement of 80,000 square feet of interior ramps with escalators and elevators. A large kitchen and food-service area will also be developed in space currently being used for parking. The total project cost will see the Saints cover up to around $150m, while the LSED will fund $210m through issuing bonds. The state will cover the remaining sum.

NOLA.com said the Bond Commission approved the project after questioning Saints president Dennis Lauscha and Doug Thornton, executive vice-president of SMG, which operates the stadium, about why the spending is needed. Thornton said alternative options had been studied for more than two years. “The Saints’ lease expires in 2025, and we felt it important to address the long-term stadium issue rather than wait,” he said.

Thornton added that local and national stadium experts concluded the cost of developing a new stadium, earmarked at around $2bn, was prohibitively expensive and unnecessary. “The Superdome has been well preserved over the years and is in good shape even though it’s now 45 years old,” Thornton said.

He added that the experts advised “that its useful life can be extended substantially with the right improvements.”

Image: Trahan Architects