Benson discusses stadium study
NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson met with Gov. Kathleen Blanco on Friday to discuss a study that recommends renegotiating the team's contract and lowering the state's obligations to the team.
Neither party would say what transpired during the meeting, but Doug Thornton, a representative of the Superdome who attended the meeting, said the state intends to honor its financial obligations to the Saints, but the timing of the payment and where the funds will come from may need to be restructured.
The meeting was held in a downtown New Orleans office and included Benson, Saints vice president of administration Arnold Fielkow along with Blanco, Thornton of the Superdome Management Group and Tim Coulon of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District.
Faced with a shortfall of almost $12 million of the $15 million due the Saints by July 5, the commission that oversees the Superdome sent the study to both the governor and the team on Tuesday. The study said the deal worked out between former Gov. Mike Foster's administration and the Saints, which gave the Saints $186 million to keep them in Louisiana, was not equitable.
Barrett Sports Group, which did the study, recommended renegotiating the contract with the Saints so that the team shares more of the risks and costs. It also recommends a $150 million renovation of the Superdome rather than spending $450 million for a new stadium with the Saints assuming a portion of the costs, and lengthening the contract.
Thornton said although the state does want to re-work the deal, it isn't looking to change the financial terms. Thornton added that the shortfall may be just over $7 million as opposed to the much-talked-about $12 million figure.
The effort to re-negotiate the deal may kick off another contentious round of dealing between the Saints and the state. The 2001 negotiations were frequently antagonistic.
Loyal fans here fear that if the state defaults on its financial obligation to the team, the Saints will seek to relocate, possibly to Los Angeles.
In fact, on Friday, the story led the early- and late-evenings local newscasts on every network affiliate and was generally reported in ominous tones, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports.
The Saints have frequently been cited as a possibility for Los Angeles, to which the NFL hopes to return by 2007. However, that city still must provide a viable stadium.
In a telephone conversation with ESPN.com earlier this week, Fielkow strongly reiterated the Saints' intention to stay in New Orleans and cited Benson's longtime ties to the city.
"[But] we do have a contract with the state and we would hope they will honor that contract," Fielkow said.
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