Saints bury the Superdome payment hatchet


Saints paid bill for Superdome renovation Image: Superdome, Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0

The National Football League (NFL) team New Orleans Saints recently paid the State $11.4 million it owed for ongoing renovations to their home ground – the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana (US) – after two days of finger pointing between the Benson organization and the Superdome Commission over why the team was withholding payments and who was at fault.

‘nola’ stated that businessman Shane Guidry, a top Political Advisor to the Republican Governor of Louisiana Jeff Landry, confirmed that the team turned over the cash, just hours after Landry called the Saints Owner Gayle Benson to discuss the issue.

The New Orleans Saints are a professional American football team based in New Orleans. The Saints compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member of the league’s National Football Conference South Division.

The 83,000-capacity Caesars Superdome, commonly known as the Superdome, is a domed multipurpose stadium located in the central business district (CBD) of New Orleans, Louisiana (US). It is the home stadium of the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League (NFL).

The Benson Capital Partners is an investment firm founded by Gayle M. Benson (Owner of the New Orleans Saints NFL franchise).

That call was followed by another “productive call” between the Saints and the National Basketball Association (NBA) team New Orleans Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha and Robert Vosbein, Chair of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, better known as the Superdome Commission, according to a team spokesman who also confirmed the payment.

New Orleans (US)-based the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) are a State agency/political subdivision comprising seven members appointed by the Governor of Louisiana. The Board’s primary purpose is to plan, finance, construct, develop, maintain, and operate facilities located within the district for events of public interest.

Maintained Guidry, “I am certainly glad that they paid. The Governor is glad they paid. We want them to stay in New Orleans and be part of the community. But it has to be something that makes sense.”

The real beef

‘nola’ further stated that the dispute erupted recently at a meeting of the Superdome Commission when the agency stated publicly that the team was late on its payments and suggested it was threatening progress to the $500 million stadium renovation with the Super Bowl just eight months away.

Later, both sides acknowledged that real beef stemmed from the ongoing negotiations over a new long-term lease that would keep the team in the Dome until at least 2035. In a statement posted to the Saint’’ website recently, Lauscha said the State was trying to potentially reduce some of the team’s “concessions and rights”, which allows it to make money off the sale of food and drinks, suites and seats.

But the Commission and Guidry, on behalf of Landry, said the team’s obligation to pay its share of the renovations – a deal it agreed to several years ago – was unrelated and should not be used as a bargaining chip.

Averred Guidry, who served as Landry’s transition team leader, “We cannot have a gun to our head saying ‘we are not going to fund our portion of the renovation unless you give us the 10-year lease that we want. If it was all one contract tied together, fine. It’s not.”

The powerful Superdome Commission and the City’s beloved NFL franchise have engaged in brinksmanship periodically over the years, though not recently. The latest clash comes three months into the tenure of a new Commission appointed by a new Governor. Landry replaced six of the seven members with his own political appointees when he took office in January. The Commissioners didn’t meet for the first time until late February.

The retired State legislator John Alario, who brokered countless public-private deals during his five decades in the Legislature and served on the Superdome Commission under Governor John Bel Edwards, said he has seen such “saber-rattling” before and predicted, even before the payment was made recently, that the two sides would come together.

Added Alario, “I think it all eventually gets worked out. It’s too important for both sides not to.”

Haggling over concessions

The Superdome renovation project was launched almost five years ago to update the 49-year-old stadium to modern standards, extend its lifespan and serve as the linchpin for a lease extension. Highlights of the projects include expanded concourses, new entry gates, new locker rooms and enhanced food and beverage (F&B) services.

Under the terms of a deal that was negotiated prior to the start of construction, the Saints agreed to pay one-third of the project costs and were doing so until last December, according to both LSED and Saints officials.

At the same time construction has been underway, the team and the State have been haggling privately over a new lease that, with options, could be extended and keep the Saints in the City through 2055. Under the former Governor of Louisiana John Bel Edwards and his Superdome Commission, the two sides were making progress on a deal that would build off the existing lease, which was negotiated in 2009 and extended by the team late last year until 2030.

But talks broke down earlier this Spring, according to Lauscha’s statement recently which blamed Landry and the new Commission for “threatening” to roll back millions of dollars a year in money-making opportunities.

Lamented Lauscha, “Unfortunately, as we continued to exchange drafts there were further attempts to diminish the team’s rights and we again warned the LSED we would have to hold payments if they continued to go back on their commitment.”

He also accused the agency of dragging out the talks and failing to respond to calls and emails. The LSED declined to engage in a back and forth over the lease talks, but multiple sources familiar with the negotiations disputed Lauscha’s characterization of the events and denied that the State has tried to cut into what the team can earn off the Dome.

Commented Guidry, “The State needs to fund its portion of the renovation and the Saints need to fund theirs and then we get back in the room and negotiate a new deal for the Saints. But it has got to be done the right way and it cannot be all tied together.”

It is unclear when the lease talks will resume.

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