Louisiana State Bond Commission

The Louisiana State Bond Commission meets on Aug. 15, 2019.

The Louisiana State Bond Commission on Thursday approved the first step toward a $450 million renovation of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Officials said the improvements are important for keeping the New Orleans Saints in the city while ensuring the Superdome can continue to compete for major events that don’t involve the team.

“It’s not about the Saints making money,” said Treasurer John Schroder, who chairs the Bond Commission.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District owns the Superdome and leases it back to the state. LSED receives a 4 percent sales tax on hotel stays in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, in lieu of a 2 percent tax the state would otherwise collect.

LSED plans to issue bonds worth $210 million to help pay for the upgrades. The Saints have agreed to put up $150 million, officials said.

That would leave state government to come up with about $90 million over the next few years.

“I love watching the Saints; I’m a big fan,” said state Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice. “I’m just trying to understand how we’re going to pay for it.”

The state might fund its share through the capital outlay process. The bonds issued by LSED would not count against the state’s borrowing capacity, said state Rep. Neil Abramson, D- New Orleans.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state finished the last fiscal year with a surplus of about $300 million, though the final number has not yet been calculated, which was another possible source discussed Thursday.

Matthew Block, general counsel for the Edwards administration, said that lawmakers will have the flexibility to decide how to pay the state’s share over the next four years. State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said the Superdome isn’t just the home of the Saints; it’s a state asset that hosts Super Bowls, Final Fours and other events that create significant tax revenue.

Dennis Lauscha, who is president of both the Saints and the Pelicans, said new stadiums can cost $2 billion or more. Lauscha said taxpayers often pay as much as half of the cost. Meanwhile, the Superdome is an iconic stadium in a perfect location for big events, and is in good enough shape that it doesn’t need to be replaced to remain competitive, he said.

Officials said contracts with the project’s construction manager will be for a fixed cost, meaning the state would not be on the hook for potential cost overruns.

After the meeting, Block said the administration has been in talks with Saints officials almost daily.

“This is something we’ve been working on for months,” he said. “We anticipate, at the end of the day, the Saints will remain here for the next generation as a result of this agreement.”

Block described the Bond Commission’s approval as an important step in solidifying the various agreements between the state, LSED and the Saints to begin construction and establish a long-term lease keeping the team in place for at least 15 more years, with potential extensions beyond that point. The existing lease expires in 2025.

“Following today’s action, I believe that in short order, we will finalize a long-term lease extension that keeps the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome for many years to come,” Edwards said in a statement.

Staff Writer

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.