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|'Win-win' deal for state, Saints|
State lawmakers will be hard pressed not to sign off on the deal Gov. Bobby Jindal struck to keep the New Orleans Saints in the Big Easy through 2025.
Lawmakers literally have no choice because the deal Jindal made with Saints owner Tom Benson is a good one. It's a good one because it keeps the Saints and the tax monies the team generates in the city for years to come while the state and its taxpayers -- for all practical purposes -- will no longer provide a cash subsidy to a NFL franchise.
Gathered in New Orleans late last week, Jindal and Benson announced the new agreement between the state and the Saints. It will replace the lucrative deal Benson extracted in 2001 from then-Gov. Mike Foster. The Foster/Benson deal resulted in the state making large, cash payments to the Saints on an annual basis to ensure the team remained in Louisiana. Remember, Benson threatened at the time to move his team to San Antonio, Texas, if he didn't get what he wanted out of Foster. Foster obliged.
Though the Foster/Benson agreement will remain in place for another two years, those annual checks Benson receives from the state will be reduced in 2010 and 2011 based upon the state's participation in the Sports Development District. The district represents a new endeavor to revitalize the area around the Superdome, which remains in shambles thanks to Hurricane Katrina.
After 2011, the state's annual payments, or subsidies, to the Saints will end as we know them today. The Saints, though, will be eligible to receive up to $6 million per year from the state based upon the franchise's financial performance.
The Sports Development District will evolve from the Saints and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District coming together to redevelop the New Orleans Centre Mall where, nearby, a 70,000-square-foot plaza area will be available to Superdome visitors on game day. Supposedly, vendors will be allowed operate at the plaza, which would generate sales tax monies for the city.
Meanwhile, Benson will buy Dominion Tower, an office building located near the Superdome. The state will lease office space at Dominion Tower for the next 20 years. When Katrina struck in 2005, state agencies were forced to vacate the downtown area and have remained in various office locations throughout the city since then. Once Dominion Tower has been brought up to speed, or remodeled, state agencies will move in per part of the plan to revitalize the downtown area near the Dome.
Along the way, or in the off-seasons in 2010 and 2011, the state will spend $85 million to make improvements at the Dome. Some 3,100 new plaza level seats will be installed while 16 new luxury suites will be built. Well-heeled individuals and/or the companies they operate will be more than willing to lease the suites. You can count on it.
The Saints will keep revenues generated by the sale of the new seats and leasing the new luxury suites for the team's home games. The Superdome will get the revenues during other events such as the Sugar Bowl, a Super Bowl, Essence Festival and the like.
According to those in the know, an upgraded Louisiana Superdome will put the city in a prime position to land the 2013 Super Bowl. The upgrades, according to state and Saints officials, also will allow the Saints to recoup money the team will lose when the state quits making those large, annual, cash payments to Benson's team. Furthermore, an upgraded Superdome will put the Saints on an even keel with other NFL franchises, many of which have built new, top-shelf stadiums in their markets courtesy of the taxpayers in those cities and/or states.
To finance the $85 million in upgrades at the Dome, Jindal has his eyes set on budget surplus monies from a prior fiscal year. While we've heard a whimper or two from a state lawmaker or two, objecting to Jindal's plans to use budget surplus funds, those objections will fall by the wayside over time. They will fall by the wayside once Jindal or his chief of staff explains the repercussions to a reluctant lawmaker if he or she doesn't support the state's new agreement for the Saints. After all, state funding for a project of local concern to a particular lawmaker can disappear overnight.
In the meantime, don't expect to hear any griping among northern Louisiana lawmakers over the new deal for the Saints, which the Legislature must approve before it becomes a reality.
We won't hear any objections among legislators from God's country because of Jindal's efforts to help Foster Farms buy the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant in Union Parish. Remember, Jindal committed $50 million in state funding toward the chicken plant deal, saving more than 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.
Over the weekend, The Times-Picayune editorialized that the new deal between the state and the Saints was a "win-win-win-win situation" for Louisiana and Benson's Saints.
That's exactly what it is.
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