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New Orleans Saints News

News » Benson confident about lease agreement

Benson confident about lease agreement

Benson confident about lease agreement
DANA POINT, CALIF. -- Saints Owner Tom Benson expressed his confidence Monday that the team and the state will have a long-term lease agreement in place soon, and the Super Bowl will return to New Orleans in 2013.

He even showed great enthusiasm for the proposed enhancements to the Superdome, saying: "I think that what we've got in mind right now, that might even be better than a new stadium."

"Naturally, I would like it to be over. I really did think we'd have it done by now," Benson said of the lease negotiations during a break in the NFL's annual meetings. "But our people have made a lot of headway, and I think we're going in the right direction.

"When both sides are interested in getting something done, you'll get it done."

Saints and state officials have shared that optimism, predicting that a deal will be in place in time for the next set of NFL meetings, May 18-20 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during which the 2013 Super Bowl will be awarded.

New Orleans plans to submit its bid to host that game by the April 1 deadline, knowing the bid likely won't be considered unless the long-term lease agreement is reached by the time the owners vote in May.

"We have to make a commitment that we're going to have it done or we have to withdraw it for the May vote," Benson said.

If the lease agreement is in place, however, Benson believes New Orleans is practically a shoo-in to bring back the NFL title game for the first time since 2002.

"Oh, I feel very good about that," Benson said. "I think everybody's itching to get back, I really do. They like New Orleans. It's a great place to have a Super Bowl. So, I think if we can we will get this done, and we're going to get us a Super Bowl."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell echoed that sentiment Monday, saying that he would like to see the game return to New Orleans for a record-tying 10th time if all the elements are in place.

New Orleans and South Florida have each played host to nine Super Bowls, but South Florida will reach 10 when it hosts Super Bowl XLIV next year.

"New Orleans has been a great Super Bowl city, and I think with all that they've been through, they'd do a terrific job," Goodell said. "And it would be great for the community, and it would be great for the NFL."

Goodell said he has been following the negotiations on a new lease agreement between the Saints and Louisiana, but only through updates from the team.

"I know they've had some productive dialogue," Goodell said. "And I do think it's important for a long-term agreement for the Saints to be there, for the Saints and for Louisiana. But I also think if they do submit a bid for the Super Bowl, I think that would be an important element."

Chicago Bears owner/chairman Michael McCaskey, who serves as chairman of the NFL's Super Bowl advisory committee, was equally enthusiastic about the idea of returning the Super Bowl to New Orleans, a place that's dear to him since the Bears won Super Bowl XX in a dominant effort against the New England Patriots at the Superdome.

"Oh, most certainly we would (like to return to the Superdome)," said McCaskey, who stopped short of saying New Orleans would be at the "forefront" of the committee's list of finalists, but he said: "I expect them to be a real strong competitor."

McCaskey said he didn't want to comment on the lease negotiations between the Saints and Louisiana, but he did point out another potential hitch in New Orleans' 2013 plans -- a schedule conflict with Mardi Gras.

Fat Tuesday falls on Feb. 12 in 2013. The Super Bowl would likely land Feb. 3. But the contingent that is putting together New Orleans' Super Bowl bid is aware of the conflict and is considering ways to tie the festivities together and turn it into a positive.

There is precedent for moving the parades around to accommodate the Super Bowl. It happened in 2002, when the Super Bowl interrupted Mardi Gras festivities after the game was pushed back a week following the 9/11 tragedy.

Of more immediate concern is the lease agreement. The current agreement is scheduled to run out after the 2010 season, and the sides are trying to work out a 15-year extension.

Under the current agreement, the state will pay the Saints $23.5 million this year and next as part of the 10-year, $186.5 million contract signed in 2001. The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the agency in charge of the Superdome that is heading discussions on behalf of the state, is hopeful the sides can reach an agreement without a continuation of the large inducements. Instead, the LSED has been proposing ways to generate new revenue.

"I think we can (hash things out)," Benson said. "Certainly, we better. You know, we've only got a year left after this one, so we better get it done.

"I think that our people and the state are working real hard on this. But there's so many little things, and the economy right now. The state doesn't feel like they have any money. And the NFL of course is just like everybody else, things are just down a great deal."

Benson said there is no specific issue that he is putting his foot down and refusing to bend on. He said, however, that one of the most important issues being discussed is further enhancements of the Superdome.

The sides have been working on a proposal that would create an additional 3,000 seats in the lower bowl, widen the plaza concourse from 18 feet to 60 feet to expand restroom and concession capacity and possibly move the 300-level press box higher to allow for more than a dozen new suites to be built.

"The big thing is that you've got to spend a lot of money, and what our participation has to be, in getting the Superdome up to standards for the Super Bowl," Benson said. "But on top of that, that it will be a real first-class facility. That's of more interest than anything, you know. Our people and our fans deserve that."

. . . . . . .

Mike Triplett can be reached at mtriplett@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3405.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 24, 2009

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