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Officials show off state-of-the-art upgrades to Superdome

NEW ORLEANS -- It's hard to believe now that the Louisiana Superdome was once filled with water, mold and tens of thousands of evacuees escaping the flooded neighborhoods of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

State and city officials showed off its newly completed upgrades on Wednesday, touting the improvements as having "all the bells and whistles" of a new facility.

Seats have been replaced or refurbished, and new ones added; there are new club facilities and restrooms, and new video systems and scoreboards installed. Luxury suites have been added and the Saints' locker room expanded to twice its old size.

"We have a state of the art, modern stadium and we've saved the taxpayer money," Gov. Bobby Jindal said after a tour.

The multi-phase $336 million project begun after Katrina wrecked the building in 2005, stripping away part of the roof and dumping water throughout, allowing mold to grow unchecked. Evacuees stewed in the summer heat without air conditioning or working bathrooms in a scene that epitomized the chaos of the disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $156 million of the renovation money, said Superdome manager Doug Thornton. He said renovating the Superdome was half the cost of building a new stadium.

"This is a brand new stadium," said New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, who pushed hard for construction of a new facility before the 2005 storm. "It's got all the things we wanted. I haven't seen a finer stadium in the country."

The Lucas Oil Stadium built in 2008 in Indianapolis cost $720 million. The Dallas Cowboys' stadium, built in 2009, ran $1.3 billion, and the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, completed last year, was $1.6 billion.

Since the Superdome reopened in 2006, events there have had a fiscal impact of $4.1 billion on the Louisiana economy, according to a study by the University of New Orleans. By 2025, the end of the Saints' current lease, the Superdome is projected to have a total fiscal impact of $19.9 billion.

Within the next 18 months the Superdome will host the 2012 BCS Championship and NCAA Final Four and the 2013 Super Bowl.

The Superdome has become a symbol of the city's recovery since the massive hurricane that destroyed much of the city. It reopened in time for the Saints' Super Bowl-winning season, and the refurbishing has come as the city continues to rebuild.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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