Temporary Superdome repair to begin Saturday

Updated: October 14, 2005, 7:52 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- The Louisiana Superdome, which became a symbol of the destruction wrought by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a shelter for thousands displaced by the storm, is scheduled to be temporarily repaired.

Repairs to gaping holes in the Superdome's massive roof were to begin Saturday. A decision on full restoration will be made in early November when an engineering study on the structural integrity of the building is completed, said Tim Coulon, head of the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, which oversees the operation of the Superdome.

On Wednesday, an architectural firm will be selected to design the prospective restoration of the stadium, home to the New Orleans Saints.

The inside of the Superdome was damaged so extensively by the hurricane and subsequent vandalism that there was talk about demolishing it altogether. Officials now say that is unlikely.

Dome officials have estimated it might take 16 months to make the building functional, Jerry W. Jones, director of facility planning and control, said Friday.

"But I think if we had a very aggressive effort, we could get it back in 12 months," Jones said.

If the cost of restoration were 51 percent or more of what it would cost to replace it -- something Coulon said they don't anticipate -- the structure would be demolished and a new one built.

Replacing the Superdome would cost between $260 million and $270 million, he said. Initial estimates to restore the building place the cost at more than $125 million.

"We don't know the exact scope of the work," Coulon said. "We certainly want to restore it to pre-Katrina conditions. A decision on whether we make improvements to facilitate using it as a shelter should be made in the next three weeks."

The restoration process could include some of the things Saints owner Tom Benson wanted, Coulon said.

"It may not be the total upgrade, but we will certainly have to upgrade damaged suites and might include some seating upgrades," Coulon said. "It might be $30 [million] or $40 million, instead of the entire package."

The Superdome was used as a shelter during Katrina, which struck Aug. 29. As many as 30,000 people took refuge there for almost a week. During that period, the power failed, leaving the interior dark, hot and humid. Toilets backed up, refugees broke into offices, luxury suites and restaurants, and garbage stacked up both inside and outside.

The roof broke away in two places during the storm, allowing rain to soak vast areas.

The adjacent New Orleans Arena, where the New Orleans Hornets played, was used as a medical shelter. There was less damage to it, although the locker rooms and first-floor storage area flooded.

The Saints have moved their operations to San Antonio and are dividing home games between the Alamodome and Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. The Sugar Bowl, New Orleans Bowl and Bayou Classic, all played annually in the Superdome, have been moved to other cities. The Hornets have moved their home games to Oklahoma City.

The Saints have a contract with the state that runs through 2010, guaranteeing the team $186.5 million in state payments. Gov. Kathleen Blanco had been attempting to re-negotiate the deal. Part of that effort included a $174 million Superdome renovation.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press