By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — 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 a portion of the renovations to the New Orleans Superdome, two months after lawmakers stalled a prior financing proposal.
The Edwards administration describes a state contribution to the Superdome upgrades as critical to reaching an agreement with the Saints that keeps the NFL team in the state for decades.
After behind-the-scenes negotiations, the federal funding plan — along with a companion plan to let the Superdome manager pay off a debt to the state years early — go before two panels for approval Thursday. The Bond Commission and the joint House and Senate budget committee have to back the arrangement for the proposal to work.
That appears likely to happen after Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said they have agreed on the outlines of the financing plan.
“I am comfortable with it. I think members will be comfortable with at as well. I think we’re in good shape,” said Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican.
Details of the arrangement were outlined to The Associated Press and described in a memo from the Superdome oversight board, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, provided by Dardenne’s office.
The new arrangement would have the state putting up $54 million of the $450 million in stadium improvements: $27 million already authorized through the state construction budget and $27 million from the federal coronavirus relief aid. That’s down from previous proposals that would have the state contributing $90 million to the Superdome renovations.
“We have what I believe is going to be an acceptable agreement to everybody,” said Dardenne, the Democratic governor’s chief budget adviser.
The reworked Superdome improvement plan would keep the Saints at the original plan of putting up $150 million while the share from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District would increase to $246 million.
And the state’s share could drop even lower than the $54 million. Cortez said the $27 million in federal pandemic assistance would be returned to the state if hotel/motel tax dollars allocated to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District rebound to certain levels by 2023.
“We want to be frugal in how much we put into this, and we want the stadium agreement to be a fairer deal for the state,” said Cortez, a Lafayette Republican. “It’s gotten to be a better partnership.”
The state’s current lease with the NFL team expires in 2025, though Saints owner Gayle Benson has pledged she intends to keep the club in New Orleans long-term.
The $450 million in upgrades to the nearly 50-year-old iconic stadium in downtown New Orleans — with expanded club and suite levels, new concession stands, viewing decks and other improvements — was part of a plan announced by Edwards more than two years ago aimed at keeping the Saints in New Orleans through 2055.
The stadium renovations began in 2020 and are expected to wrap up before the Super Bowl scheduled to be held in the Superdome in February 2025. Dardenne said it’s critical to reach a deal on the state’s share of the financing by the end of the year so the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District can sign a contract for the next phases of the construction work.
Among other features of the plan:
—The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District will pay off a bond debt owed to the state in a lump sum of $28 million, rather than through installments over years. Cortez and Schexnayder said that debt repayment was critical to striking a deal. Lawmakers rejected a previous plan that would have had the state simply forgiving the debt as part of its contribution to the renovations.
—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.
—The Saints will sign an agreement detailing the NFL club’s commitment to staying in New Orleans through 2035, with two 10-year extension options if the full Superdome renovations are completed.