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JOESAM2002 04-27-2005 04:05 PM

Blanco and Benson...
April 27. 2005 12:34PM

Blanco seeks meeting date from Saints owner

The Associated Press

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has invited New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson to the Gov.'s Mansion this week or next to resolve stalled contract talks with the team or to determine if a deal can't be reached.

"We have not heard anything back," Andy Kopplin, Blanco's chief of staff, said Tuesday.

Tim Coulon, Blanco's chief negotiator and chairman of the Superdome Commission, said he sent an e-mail to the Saints on Sunday and spoke to Saints Executive Vice President Arnold Fielkow on Tuesday about a response to the state's latest offer, tendered more than three weeks ago.

Benson "doesn't owe us a meeting," Coulon said. "He does owe us an answer."

Fielkow said he "cannot comment on what is going on right now." He said Benson has not taken a position on the offers.

Blanco has offered to launch a $168 million renovation of the Superdome for the Saints, giving the team more expensive box suites and sideline seats.

In return, Blanco wants Benson to pay $40 million toward the cost of the stadium makeover and take a cut in the annual guaranteed payment the team gets under a contract signed in 2001 by then-Gov. Mike Foster. The contract guarantees the franchise $186 million over 10 years.

The state is due to pay the team $15 million by July 5, but Blanco said the revenues that finance the deal are expected to fall about $9 million short. The state had to borrow money last year to make the payments.

A package of bills has been filed for the legislative session to help finance a possible deal with the Saints, including proposals to raise the hotel-motel tax in Orleans and Jefferson parishes; to institute a 10 percent tax on tickets to Saints games and other National Football League events at the Dome; and to increase the auto rental tax.

"In the big scheme of things, the governor wants to move on" to other pressing matters in the legislative session if a deal cannot be struck, Coulon said. "If the Saints aren't interested, we need to eliminate that from the agenda."

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