Legislature

Melinda Deslatte: Governor and legislature both claim victories with Superdome renovations | Opinion

Louisiana’s new deal with the New Orleans Saints gives state legislative leaders a victory, with lower-than-expected payments to help cover Superdome renovations, ending a stadium manager debt that angered lawmakers and cut office rental costs for state agencies.

Governor John Bel Edwards may also declare victory, making a deal that will lock the Saints into a deal to stay in New Orleans for years after the Democratic governor’s term – and possibly decades to come.

The negotiations lasted more than two years. The approval of the central elements of the plan took place on Thursday, although a few details remain to be worked out in subsequent legislation. But while some Republican lawmakers have privately complained about continuing to spend money to help the NFL team and its wealthy owner, those complaints have not been released publicly.

Instead, the State Bond Commission and the Joint House and Senate Budget Committee quickly gave the necessary votes, while officials applauded the lower price for the state and the benefits of keeping the Saints in the News. -Orléans.

Edwards issued a statement calling it a “big day not only for the city of New Orleans and the Saints, but for Louisiana and its economy.”

Republican Senate Speaker Page Cortez thanked Saints owner Gayle Benson for agreeing to renegotiate the terms of the stadium deal and described it as “a better partnership” for the state and the NFL club.

GOP House President Clay Schexnayder called it a fair deal for Louisiana and the Saints.

And Treasurer John Schroder, chairman of the Republican Bonds Commission, posted on Twitter after the approvals: “The Superdome is an iconic facility, but we also need to be responsive to the concerns of lawmakers in districts with major needs. Today’s action has been a win-win for the state.

That kind of blanket praise for a financial deal can be hard to come by on the Louisiana Capitol these days, and it took lengthy negotiations behind the scenes to get there.

In August 2019, Edwards announced $ 450 million in planned upgrades to the iconic, nearly 50-year-old Superdome, calling them critical of keeping the Saints in New Orleans until 2055. The Lease of Louisiana with the NFL team was set to expire in 2025, although Benson has pledged to keep the club in New Orleans for the long term.

But Republican legislative leaders opposed continuing parts of the state-Saints ‘existing lease agreement and raised objections to Edwards’ plan to charge the state $ 90 million for the renovations to the Superdome.

These GOP lawmakers temporarily blocked a construction budget funded by the Edwards administration for renovations, although they later approved it. But they also turned down a proposal to write off a loan debt owed to the state by the director of the Superdome, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District.

Under the terms of the deal approved Thursday, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District will repay the debt to the state in a lump sum of $ 28 million, rather than have it canceled. Meanwhile, the state will contribute up to $ 54 million towards improvements to the dome-shaped stadium.

The state will use $ 27 million in federal aid for the coronavirus pandemic and $ 27 million from the state’s construction budget to cover 12% of renovation costs.

This is less than the $ 90 million initially offered. And the final price could fall further.

Federal aid of $ 27 million would be returned to the state if hotel / motel taxes allocated to Louisiana Stadium and the Exhibition District were to rise to certain levels by 2023. These levels remain to be negotiated and included in the legislation.

“We want to be frugal in everything we put into this,” Cortez, of Lafayette, said.

In addition, the Saints have agreed to reduce the rent charged to state agencies in an office building owned by Benson to market value, rather than the higher-than-average rental agreements currently in place, the commissioner said at administration Jay Dardenne, chief negotiator of the governor. on the case.

Superdome renovations – which include expanded club and suite levels, new concession stands, observation decks and other upgrades – began in 2020 and are expected to be completed before the Super Bowl is held in the stadium. in February 2025.

As part of the new deal, the Saints have pledged to sign a deal keeping the team in New Orleans until 2035, with four options for a five-year extension until 2055 if full Superdome renovations are completed. .

Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for the Associated Press since 2000.

Our take: bond commission needs to cross the goal line as part of the Superdome deal


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