NEW ORLEANS -- Less than four years after Hurricane Katrina tore up the Louisiana Superdome and cast doubt on the future of major professional sports in New Orleans, the city is formally pronouncing itself ready to bring back the Super Bowl.
The New Orleans Saints and the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation on Friday submitted a bid to host the NFL's championship game in 2013, which would be the city's 10th Super Bowl and first since the New England Patriots' last-second victory over the St. Louis Rams in 2002.
"With 18,000 downtown hotel rooms, the Superdome, the convention center and French Quarter all within walking distance of each other, New Orleans is still very well-suited to host this event," said Jay Cicero, the sports foundation's president. "The renovated Superdome is very impressive, and with planned improvements, the dome will be even better for events like this."
The Louisiana Superdome got a new roof and major interior renovations -- including rebuilt suites, club lounges and new scoreboards -- after Katrina and reopened for the 2006 season. The Saints sold out all their seats in the three seasons since moving back into the iconic, downtown stadium, which has hosted six Super Bowls.
The state also is preparing to move forward with additional improvements to the Superdome once the Saints have agreed to a proposed lease extension through 2025. Those enhancements would include reconfigured field-level stands that would result in more premium seats, wider concourses, more concession stands and more bathrooms. Another proposal would increase the number of suites by building new ones where the current press box sits between the dome's second and third decks and moving the media up higher in the third deck.
An agreement on a lease extension could prove critical to the success of New Orleans' Super Bowl bid.
The Saints' current lease calls for escalating annual cash subsidies to be paid by the state of Louisiana to the team through the 2010 season, with final payments rising to $23.5 million per year beginning this June. After the 2010 season, the subsidies end, and the Saints can terminate the lease by paying a $15 million penalty.
The state hopes to lock in the Saints for at least an additional 15 years by offering a combination of stadium enhancements and continued, but lowered, annual cash subsidies. The current formula for subsidies was based on faulty projections of revenues generated by New Orleans-area hotel and motel taxes. For several years, those revenues have been insufficient to pay the Saints, so the state has been forced to dip into general funds.
"Clearly a long-term (Superdome) agreement is an important element," Bensel said. "We are anxious to get that component finalized."
Cicero noted there is a precedent for the NFL awarding Super Bowls contingent upon stadium matters being resolved at a later date.
The 2010 Super Bowl originally was awarded to New York on the condition that a new stadium be built in Manhattan. The stadium, which also was part of the city's unsuccessful Olympic bid, failed to win government approval, and the NFL later awarded the game to Miami.
If the state of Louisiana and the Saints have yet to reach a new lease agreement by May, but both sides agree they are very close, Benson and his granddaughter, part-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc, still could press fellow NFL owners to approve New Orleans' bid. Phoenix and Miami also are bidding for the game that year.
"The NFL could certainly award it to us contingent upon the (lease extension) being finalized," Cicero said. "We're going to have to have a very competitive bid, and Mr. Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc play a huge role in getting the owners to vote for New Orleans."
Cicero added that the plan was to offer a bid that compares favorably to those of competing cities and not rely on any sympathy related to New Orleans' ongoing recovery from Katrina. New Orleans already has successfully hosted an NBA All-Star Game and BCS national college football championship since Katrina, and it is scheduled to host college basketball's men's Final Four in 2012.
"We tell this to all the event owners that are out there," Cicero said. "We can still do your event better than anybody else in the country, but we also need your event more than anybody else in the country."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press