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Deal that would keep Saints in New Orleans through 2025 nearly done

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Gov. Bobby Jindal's deal to keep the New Orleans Saints in Louisiana throughout 2025 gained legislative approval Thursday and is close to completion.

Two pieces of the deal -- a plan for the state to lease office space from Saints owner Tom Benson and $85 million in surplus spending on Superdome improvements -- gained the needed votes in the House and Senate.

Supporters have called the arrangement a better deal for the state, while opponents said it was inappropriate to give more money to the NFL team while Louisiana also was cutting health care and education programs.

One more step remains before everything is complete. The terms of the lease between Benson and the state will require approval from the legislature's joint budget committee.

Benson plans to buy and redevelop a vacant office complex and a vacant former mall next to the Louisiana Superdome. Under the Jindal administration deal, the state agreed to rent office space from the Saints' owner in a deal to funnel money to the NFL team while limiting direct cash subsidies -- which have reached $23.5 million per year.

The state will pay annual rent of about $8 million, increasing over time, for a 15-year-lease with a five-year renewal option to occupy about 60 percent of the office building, which has been abandoned since Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005. The building once was known as the Dominion Tower.

The move will consolidate state offices in New Orleans, which have been spread across several leased spaces around the city after Katrina damaged a state-owned building downtown.

Also, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the entity that oversees the state-owned Superdome, will work with Benson to turn the former mall into a sports-themed plaza, and the LSED will lease space from Benson as part of that redevelopment deal.

Meanwhile, the state will spend $85 million to upgrade the Superdome as a way to generate more revenue for the team from ticket, suite and concession sales. The money will be used to add suites, widen the concourses and make other improvements. It comes from a state surplus left over from last year.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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