New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Gov. Bobby Jindal to announce state’s new agreement with Saints Thursday morning

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Gov.

Bobby Jindal to announce state’s new agreement with Saints Thursday morning

by Ed Anderson, The Times-Picayune

BATON ROUGE — Gov. Bobby Jindal and Saints owner Tom Benson will make an announcement Thursday morning at the Superdome, the governor’s office announced this evening as officials said a deal is close on a new long-term agreement to keep the Saints in New Olreans.
The press conference will be at 10 a.m. in the Bienville Club Lounge at the Dome.

Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego said today a deal between the state and the Saints is near, and the proposals he has heard discussed may may wind up saving taxpayers about $240 million with a new 15-year contract with the franchise. Alario said after a high-level briefing with

Superdome officials and key state lawmakers at the Governor’s Mansion that state officials “have indicated they may be signing some agreement in the next couple of days,” said Alario, the dean of the Legislature who had a key role in creating the existing contract which expires after the 2010 football season.

Alario said the proposed deal will involve Saints owner Tom Benson buying the Dominion Towers adjacent to the Superdome, then leasing about 300,000 square feet — roughly two-thirds of the building back to state agencies.

Several lawmakers who attended a later briefing on the deal said that the state will pay Benson about $3.8 million a year in rent for offices at the tower.

Rep. Walt Leger II, D-New Orleans, said the plans as he understands them also call for the state to tap $85 million of the remaining $150 million in state surplus money to make repairs to the Superdome and the area around it.

However, House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, said that the surplus and other revenue sources are also under consideration as a way to pay for renovations to the state facilities.

The existing deal will pay the Saints about $186.5 million by the time the contract expires in 2010.

Alario said the state will be paying the “going rate” for rental, comparable to other office space in the New Orleans Central Business District.

He said the state will pay no more than $6 million in cash to Benson — possibly less — if certain benchmarks are met such as attendance levels, ticket sale sand suitres sales.

Alario and Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, said the deal also involves the Superdome Commission co-developing the food court and other areas of the storm-damaged New Orleans Centre, but details were sketchy.

Alario said it was his understanding that Benson would pay about $10.5 million over three years to help redevelop the area.

Alario said he understands the area to be renovated would be turned into an “entertainment venue.”

“It will not be easy, but we can work it out,” Alario said of lawmakers’ approval of the deal during the session.

Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, said the deal just shifts money from one source to another for Benson. With education and health care needs being cut around the state, LaFonta said, the deal as it was laid out “is robbing from the poor to give to the rich. …

“The state has not done anything for the concerns like NOAH (the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital) and layoffs at University Hospital.”

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