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New Orleans Saints News

News » Tower near Dome could be sold to Benson

Tower near Dome could be sold to Benson

Tower near Dome could be sold to Benson
In a deal that could reduce the amount of money the state pays to keep the Saints in New Orleans , Saints owner Tom Benson intends to buy the long-vacant Dominion Towers office building and lease much of it to the state, a state senator said Thursday.

Others involved in the negotiations declined to confirm the deal, but several said commercial properties adjacent to the Louisiana Superdome have been central to the negotiations between the Saints and the state.

Rental payments collected from the state offices would offset the annual payments the state makes to Benson -- this year the state owes about $23.5 million -- under a $186.5 million deal set to expire next year.

Saints and state officials have been negotiating an extension of incentives to keep the Saints playing in the Superdome.

Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego, a major player in the present agreement between the Saints and the state, said that based on what he knows about the negotiations, Benson will probably purchase the Dominion Towers next to the Superdome and rent space in it to the state to house agencies in the New Orleans area that were displaced from buildings destroyed or damaged in Hurricane Katrina.

"I haven't gotten all the details yet," Alario said.

"This will allow the state to cut back on the subsidy" the Saints now get to play in the Superdome, Alario said.

"It also puts property back in commerce" that has been vacant since 2005, Alario said.

Alario said he was not privy to all aspects of the deal but said the two sides are "pretty close" to an agreement.

Aides to Gov. Bobby Jindal recently have speculated that a deal may be close, possibly coming in early May.

"We are still in negotiations with the Saints," Jindal Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell said in a statement issued through the governor's press office. "It is going well, but we are still in the process of working through the details at this time."

Melissa Sellers, the governor's spokeswoman, refused to go beyond Teepell's statement.

Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said late Thursday that the team had no comment about such a deal or the report. Also reached late Thursday, Doug Thornton, the regional vice president of SMG, the company that runs the Superdome and New Orleans Arena on behalf of the state, said he had no comment.

The Saints and state have been in negotiations for a new lease for nearly a year. The sides hope to reach an agreement by the May 18-20 NFL owners' meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the owners will vote on the site for the 2013 Super Bowl. New Orleans is competing with Phoenix and South Florida for the game.

Under the current agreement, which expires after the 2010 season, the state will pay the team $23.5 million this year and next as part of the 10-year, $186.5 million contract signed in 2001.

The state likely can reduce its payments to the Saints by increasing the potential revenue stream for the NFL franchise at the Superdome.

According to a plan by architect Ellerbe Becket, an additional 3,000 seats can be created in the lower bowl by changing the geometry of the plaza level. The plan also calls for widening the plaza concourse from 18 feet to 60 feet by closing in the space where the bridges are. The extra concourse area would expand the restroom and concession capacity.

Also, the 300-level press box could be moved higher, allowing for more than a dozen suites to be built that would generate extra revenue. The Saints sell the 137 suites at the Superdome, which have sold out since the 2006 season, for $90,000 to $150,000 per year.

Another possible revenue stream for the Saints could be the New Orleans Centre, the vacant shopping mall that sits adjacent to the stadium and that hasn't been open since Katrina.

Although it allowed an option on the property to expire in December, the Louisiana Sports and Exposition District remains interested in purchasing the New Orleans Centre and continues to explore how it might finance the deal.

Last year, the LSED discussed buying the property, which includes the Dominion Tower, a parking garage and the former mall, and converting the latter two pieces into a sports and entertainment district that would help lure major sporting events to the city.

Although the deal, which likely could have helped the Saints generate more revenue, fell through in December, the property could still be in play.

"We are not in any position to disclose any details," Thornton said Wednesday morning at the LSED's monthly meeting at the TPC. "I don't think it is any secret that the LSED has remained interested in that property for some time. But we can't confirm at this point that there is a deal to acquire the New Orleans Centre."

Judah Hertz, owner of the Dominion Tower and the New Orleans Centre, said Thursday evening that he had signed a confidentiality agreement and could not discuss a possible deal. He also said it was "way too early" for him to say anything about the possible sale of his buildings.

Hertz bought the 26-story office tower and the nearby mall and parking garage in 2003. The Dominion Tower sustained damage during Hurricane Katrina, and Hertz moved the building's tenants into other offices he owns in the Central Business District. Although Hertz replaced windows and made other repairs, the building has remained vacant since the storm.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 17, 2009

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