Edwards and lawmakers reach agreement on Superdome renovation plan

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FILE - A general view of the Caesars Superdome before an NFL preseason soccer game between the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 23, 2021, in New Orleans.  Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration and Louisiana's legislative leaders appear to have struck a deal to use $ 27 million in federal pandemic aid to help pay for part of the Superdome renovations.  Federal money and a flanking plan to let the Superdome director pay off state debt sooner are presented to two panels for approval on Thursday, December 16, 2021. (AP Photo / Tyler Kaufman, File)

FILE – A general view of the Caesars Superdome before an NFL preseason soccer game between the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 23, 2021, in New Orleans. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration and Louisiana’s legislative leaders appear to have struck a deal to use $ 27 million in federal pandemic aid to help pay for part of the Superdome renovations. Federal money and a flanking plan to let the Superdome director pay off state debt sooner are presented to two panels for approval on Thursday, December 16, 2021. (AP Photo / Tyler Kaufman, File)

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Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration and Louisiana’s legislative leaders appear to have struck a deal to use $ 27 million in federal pandemic aid to help pay for part of the New Orleans Superdome renovations, two months after lawmakers blocked an earlier funding proposal.

The Edwards administration describes a state contribution to Superdome upgrades as essential to reaching a deal with the Saints that keeps the NFL team in the state for decades.

After behind-the-scenes negotiations, the federal financing plan – along with a flanking plan to allow the director of the Superdome to repay debt to the state years earlier – is presented to two panels on Thursday for approval. The Bond Commission and the Joint House and Senate Budget Committee must support the arrangement for the proposal to work.

It seems likely to happen after Administration Commissioner Jay Dardenne, Senate Speaker Page Cortez and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder said they agreed on the broad lines of the financing plan. .

“I’m comfortable with it. I think members will be comfortable with it as well. I think we’re in good shape, ”said Schexnayder, a Republican from Gonzales.

Details of the arrangement were exposed to The Associated Press and described in a memo from the supervisory board of the Superdome, Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, provided by the Dardenne office.

The new arrangement would require the state to invest $ 54 million of the $ 450 million of stadium improvements: $ 27 million already authorized through the state’s construction budget and $ 27 million from aid federal government to help against coronaviruses. That’s down from previous proposals that the state would contribute $ 90 million to Superdome renovations.

“We have what I think is an acceptable deal for everyone,” said Dardenne, chief budget adviser to the Democratic governor.

The reworked Superdome upgrade plan would keep the Saints at the original $ 150 million plan, while Louisiana’s stadium and exhibits share would increase to $ 246 million.

And the state’s share could fall even lower than $ 54 million. Cortez said the $ 27 million in federal pandemic assistance would be returned to the state if hotel / motel taxes allocated to Louisiana Stadium and the Exhibition District rose to certain levels by 2023.

“We want to be frugal in everything we invest in it, and we want the stadium deal to be a fairer deal for the state,” said Cortez, a Republican from Lafayette. “It has become a better partnership. “

The state’s current lease with the NFL team expires in 2025, although Saints owner Gayle Benson has pledged she intends to keep the club in New Orleans for the long term.

The $ 450 million in upgrades to the iconic stadium in downtown New Orleans, nearly 50 years old, with expanded levels of clubs and suites, new concession stands, observation decks and other improvements, were part of a plan Edwards announced over two years ago. aimed at keeping the Saints in New Orleans until 2055.

Stadium renovations began in 2020 and are expected to be completed before the Super Bowl set to be held at the Superdome in February 2025. Dardenne said it was essential to reach an agreement on the state’s share in funding for the stadium. ‘by the end of the year so that the Louisiana Stadium and the Exhibition District can sign a contract for the next phases of construction.

Among other features of the plan:

– The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District will repay a bond debt owed to the state in the form of a lump sum of $ 28 million, rather than in installments over several years. Cortez and Schexnayder said paying down the debt was key to getting a deal done. Lawmakers rejected a previous plan that the state simply forgave the debt as part of its contribution to renovations.

–The Saints’ organization agreed to reduce the rent charged to state agencies in a Benson-owned office building to market value, rather than the above-average rental agreements that were in place.

—The Saints will sign an agreement detailing the NFL club’s commitment to stay in New Orleans until 2035, with two 10-year extension options if the full renovations to the Superdome are completed.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.


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