Saints expect practice facility completed before fall
The Associated Press
Posted on February 19, 2003
NEW ORLEANS - Weather permitting, the New Orleans Saints' state-of-the-art indoor practice building should be finished within six months.
Construction has begun on the $10 million structure next to the team's practice facility.
The new building will include a 100-yard practice field of synthetic grass called "FieldTurf," a weight room and cafeteria.
It should be ready by mid-to-late July, around the start of training camp in Thibodaux.
The state is putting $6.7 million toward the project, with team owner Tom Benson paying the balance, Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said.
Bensel said Benson is spending another $5 million to remodel the current training facility, including bigger locker and training rooms and upgraded meeting rooms.
"It will be second to none in the National Football League," Benson said. "I think it demonstrates positive progress, not only for our team but for this area. It will create an excellent environment for our players and coaches as they prepare for the season.
"The new open design of the locker room will create a more unified area for our players, something we have not had in the past. And the training room is going to be drastically improved and updated, as well as the weight room. We're all very excited. This will be very positive for the long term."
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Jim Haslett said the new building and other facility improvements will place the franchise on a level playing field with the rest of the NFL.
Mostly it means the Saints will have a permanent and convenient place to practice when weather wreaks havoc in southeast Louisiana.
Inclement weather during training camp has forced the Saints to scramble to find an indoor practice site in Thibodaux. When that happens, the team usually practices at Stopher Gymnasium on the Nicholls State campus, or buses to the Superdome.
"The most important thing from a football perspective is we won't have to change our routine now," Haslett said. "The working and learning environment will be as good as any in the National Football League. It's important that you have facilities that are equal to anyone in the league.
"Plus, there is excitement that comes with a new facility, a new practice field and a new locker room. Hopefully, some day we'll have a new stadium. I know Tampa Bay attributes a big part of their success to having a new stadium. The fans can be excited about things like that. I know the players are."
Loomis said an indoor practice facility is critical to the team's success.
"The first year (2000) we didn't have much bad weather during training camp," Loomis said. "But the last two years we've had a lot of bad weather. We can practice in the rain. We're not scared of rain; we're not scared of being wet.
"But you can't be outside when you have lightning hitting all around you. You can't get enough accomplished in practice when you have that kind of weather."
Benson said long-range plans include the possibility of moving the Saints' Hall of Fame, which is now in Kenner, to the new facility and providing a store to sell Saints and NFL merchandise.
"Remodeling this facility also will make it an attractive place for free agents," Loomis said. "It's not the No. 1 priority for players, but it's impressive when they come here and see nice facilities and an attractive place to play.
"Players immediately think that these guys are willing to invest in facilities, they want to win and they want to do everything they can do to be the best team they can be. Word gets around the league, and players talk amongst themselves."
Now, he said, that buzz will be good.
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