By William Patrick | The Center Square
The Louisiana State Bond Commission voted Thursday to delay nearly $28 million in repairs to the Caesars Superdome over the New Orleans Saints’ ticket refund policy and COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The commission meets once a month and is composed of 14 members, including Gov. John Bel Edwards; Senate President Patrick Page Cortez, R-Lafayette; House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales; and Attorney General Jeff Landry.
The commission gathered via videoconference Thursday to discuss a 35-page agenda, but the meeting uncharacteristically veered into controversy when Cortez proposed stalling two critical funding items for the New Orleans Saints’ home football facility.
“This is not an absolute, ‘Let’s not fund it,’ this is an absolute, ‘Let’s talk about what the real policy is,’ ” Cortez said.
The Superdome is part of the Louisiana Stadium Expedition District, which is a political subdivision of the state. Cortez said the Saints football team is a “tenant.”
“The people who pay for the bond indebtedness are the same people who would like to possibly get a refund for their tickets if they are uncomfortable going to the games,” Cortez said.
Fans were not allowed in the Superdome last year because of COVID-19 precautions. Ticket holders received refunds or rollovers to the current season.
The NFL franchise changed its refund policy last week when the Superdome was approved for full capacity crowds and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to enter restaurants, gyms, sporting events and many other public places.
The Saints promptly implemented the so-called vaccine passport plan. Now, all fans age 12 and older must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative coronavirus test within the past 72 hours to enter the Superdome. The Saints also are offering a free COVID-19 vaccine dose at the stadium.
Fans initially were not going to receive a refund if they did not comply, but the organization changed course, announcing one hour before Thursday’s bond meeting it would allow refunds.
“Those seeking a refund should reach out to their ticket representative by the deadline of Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 4 p.m.,” a press release read. “At their request, we will cancel their accounts and provide a refund. Those tickets will then be immediately offered for purchase to our wait list.”
Matthew Block, a lawyer for Edwards, objected to Cortez’s motion. Block reminded commission members the Louisiana Legislature already approved the items in the 2021 capital outlay budget earlier this year. The funding is part of a multiyear $450 million Superdome overhaul.
Block also cited the team’s newly adopted position on ticket refunds, which Cortez acknowledged.
“What is it we are looking for? What is it that needs to be clarified?” Block asked. “It’s an important project as we discussed during regular session, and it’s on some very tight timelines. I don’t know what the consequences would be.”
Cortez said the Saints need to be responsive to the “angered tenants of that building,” and added they are taxpayers who buy tickets, rent expensive suites and pay for parking.
“Let’s have that conversation and come back at a later date,” Cortez said.
Landry said he was inclined to side with Block against the motion because he wanted to propose a substitute motion with conditions for the Saints to meet if they were to receive the $28 million.
“Here’s the problem: I spoke to a gentleman who bought season tickets in 1969 form the Tulane Stadium to the Superdome. He endured from the paper bag Aint’s to the Super Bowl Saints,” Landry said. “The question becomes, if we pull this out, what are the contingencies which we put it back in?”
Landry said exercising leverage would “let the Saints know how the bond commission feels about how they treat their fans.”
“Quite honestly, if they don’t support their fans in any other way, then I’m not sure I want to support the project or any other lines of credit for the Superdome,” Landry said.