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Future Still in Question for Damaged Dome

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Future still in question for damaged dome By LES EAST Special to The Advocate The New Orleans Saints now know that Baton Rouge and San Antonio will put them up for the rest of this football season. But where do ...

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Old 09-13-2005, 06:07 AM   #1
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Future Still in Question for Damaged Dome

Future still in question for damaged dome

Special to The Advocate

The New Orleans Saints now know that Baton Rouge and San Antonio will put them up for the rest of this football season.
But where do they play their games beyond that? Baton Rouge? San Antonio? The Superdome? Los Angeles? Eventually a new stadium in New Orleans?

Your guess is as good as anyone else's, but most people aren't venturing guesses.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Saints owner Tom Benson emphasized that the four games at Tiger Stadium, three in the Alamodome arrangement announced Monday is as far into the future as anyone can see.

"We were totally focused on doing the right thing at this time," Tagliabue said. "This is not the time to speculate. We'll be very involved in the future but that's for another time."

"Let's get this year behind us first," Benson said.

The central question to the future of the Saints is what happens to the Superdome. The building was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina and it's unknown whether it will ever be made useable again.

A damage assessment is under way to determine whether the building should be repaired, rebuilt, or demolished.

"We're trying to get through this season now," said Doug Thornton, regional vice president for SMG, which manages the Superdome. "I think it's too early to tell until we get the damage reports back in the next 60 to 90 days. I honestly cannot tell you."

Thornton walked through the Dome late last week to get a feel for the toll that Katrina and nearly one full week of housing thousands of evacuees without any power took on the building.

"There is severe damage to the roof," Thornton said. "There is severe damage to the electrical distribution system and the equipment in there. A lot of the interior space has been damaged. It's in bad shape. Whether it can be rehabilitated in nine to 12 months, is not something I can tell you about. It's going to be better addressed by the engineers and the architects.

"It's hard to speculate on damage to the Dome and how it might be rehabilitated and what might need to be done. We're in the process of evaluating the damage. Hopefully in the next 60 to 90 days we'll have a better view of what the future will be for the Dome. There are a lot of factors that go into that decision."

Thornton said the Superdome is insured for $500 in property damage and $100 million in flood damage, though it's too early to know exactly how much of that relief the state will qualify for.

The long-term future of the Saints in New Orleans was uncertain even before Katrina struck. Benson called off negotiations with the state on a new lease until after this season.

The current deal offers the team a one-time opportunity to leave after this season, but only if it repays $81 million. How the unavailability of the Superdome might affect that clause is unclear.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, the Saints announced they were setting up shop in San Antonio, a long-time suitor of NFL franchises, including New Orleans', for the remainder of the season.

Benson remained silent until Monday when he said "I don't want to leave Louisiana," citing the four games at Tiger Stadium as evidence of that. However, it was Tagliabue who was the prime mover in keeping the Saints in Louisiana for part of this season.

"The league is committed to New Orleans," Thornton said. "They're committed to working with the state. The league has committed to work with us in the long term."

Tim Coulon, Chairman of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, has represented Gov. Kathleen Blanco in talks with the Saints and was part of the negotiations with the team and LSU.

"My gut feeling is that they want to be here," Coulon said of the Saints. "That hasn't changed. How we can accommodate the Saints and what the future provides remains to be seen."

No one knows what the future holds for the Saints beyond their last home game of this season -- Christmas Eve against Detroit in San Antonio, or optimistically speaking, a January playoff game or two.

This season will provide a gauge of a how viable it is for LSU and the Saints to share Tiger Stadium if New Orleans has to come calling on LSU again next year while the Superdome or a new stadium is being worked on.

"Right now we're focused on this season because that is the immediate issue at hand," Thornton said. "I'm sure this will be sort of a test for the facility. A lot will be learned this football season. Hopefully if there is a longer term need to go beyond this season then maybe this will allow us to sort of work out the kinks."



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