Sports

Saints pony up $11.4M as Superdome feud eases

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Saints president Dennis Lauscha decried “disingenuous and unprofessional” conduct by the state commission that oversees the Superdome in a new round of public sparring Friday over the NFL team’s withholding of money for renovations to the stadium hosting the next Super Bowl.

During an interview conducted by the Saints’ official website, Lauscha confirmed that the team’s decision to hold back payments stemmed from dissatisfaction over the state’s posture in parallel negotiations toward a long-term Superdome lease.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District “was informed that material progress toward a long-term lease had to be made or payments would be stopped,” Lauscha said. “As of late of last week, sufficient progress was not made and the Saints reached out to tell them, yet again, that payments would not be made until significant progress on the lease was accomplished.”

The LSED made public during a meeting on Wednesday that the Saints were $11.4 million behind on payments toward Superdome renovations that are scheduled for completion this summer.

The NFL club issued a statement later that day in which it said it remained prepared to pay for its share of the renovations, but not until it received then-unspecified “documentation.” LSED officials responded that they “do not understand” what documentation the Saints need because not a single work invoice related to renovations had been disputed.

Lauscha said it was “absolutely disingenuous and unprofessional for the LSED to make a statement that they are unaware of what we are looking for.”

The LSED statement did, however, reference the lease negotiations.

“That is a completely separate and independent agreement,” the LSED stated. “There is no legal basis to withhold payments under the Superdome Renovation Project Development Agreement based on efforts to negotiate a longer-term extension.”

The amount of money at issue is small relative to the nearly $550 million scope of the renovation project, which has grown from an initial $450 million plan formally approved in 2019. But the team’s delay in paying could cause cash flow problems and hinder the LSED’s ability to complete remaining work — unless the state is able to find an additional funding source as a stopgap measure until the impasse with the team is resolved.

Lauscha said Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry called Saints owner Gayle Benson on Thursday night “and they had a wonderful conversation.”

Following the call, an LSED attorney “reached out to us stating that they want to meet with us to resolve our impasse and we welcome that,” Lauscha said.

Lauscha said the Saints became concerned about the tenor of lease negotiations when the LSED and the company the state pays to manage the dome, ASM Global, told the club they “wanted to discuss rolling back some of the rights granted to the team in the current lease.”

“This was clearly not what was agreed to and shocking, to say the least, given how fundamental those rights were to making the partnership function as designed,” Lauscha said without specifying which “rights” were targeted by state negotiators. “Given that threat, we told ASM and the LSED that we would have no choice but to hold up construction payments until they agreed to live up to the commitments they made to preserving our rights.”

Currently, the Saints hold various rights to revenue streams generated by the dome, such as those derived from naming rights deals and advertising space.

The LSED declined to comment further on the matter Friday, standing by previous statements, spokesman Mike Hoss said.

Most renovations have been completed. About $58 million in work remains, with the Saints responsible for about $41 million. The Saints have committed to spending about $200 million toward Superdome renovations, the team statement said.

The project has included overhauls of stadium entrances, concourses and kitchens; installation of soaring new escalators; and the replacement of older ramps with staircases and elevators. Much of it was completed even before last season.

Remaining work is expected to be completed ahead of the start of the NFL season, nearly six months before the nearly 50-year-old stadium hosts the Super Bowl on Feb. 9.

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