NEW ORLEANS — With a jazz band playing and confetti flying, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday unveiled $85 million in taxpayer-funded renovations to the Louisiana Superdome.
Fans attending Friday’s preseason football game between the Saints and the San Francisco 49ers will see a new press box, 3,400 additional seats, a wider plaza level concourse and more concession stands in the 36-year-old building.
The improvements were made as part of an agreement to keep the Saints in New Orleans through 2025.
“I’m going to make you a commitment,” Benson said after arriving on the field in a golf cart. “We’re going to bring you another Super Bowl.”
The biggest changes are to the dome’s lower level, where thousands of seats have been added, moving fans on the 50-yard line six to seven feet closer to the action.
Also on the plaza level are new concession stands, souvenir stands, restrooms and elevators. At field level are new club lounges. The Saints’ locker room doubled in size. Luxury seats were added.
The improvements come six years after Hurricane Katrina peeled part of the roof off the Superdome and thousands sought shelter within its walls.
Jindal said the Saints’ success in the aftermath of the hurricane symbolizes the progress being made toward recovering from the devastating storm.
“They truly embodied our hopes, our desires, our resilience,” he said.
Jindal said a $1 billion stadium was built in Texas for the Dallas Cowboys while the state, the NFL, the Saints and the federal government together spent $336 million to repair, renovate and upgrade the Superdome.
Benson said he watched the work progress over the past several months.
“Nearly $400 million has been spent on this place,” Benson said. “It didn’t cost that much to build it.”
Legislators, city officials and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu took a break from the day to see the improvements.
During a tour of the facility, state Rep. Patrick Connick tried out one of the new seats in the lower level. Connick, R-Marrero, is a season ticketholder.
Landrieu said the Saints provides a spark of inspiration in a city still struggling to rebuild.
“We are not building the city that we were,” Landrieu said. “We are, together, building the city that we want to become.”
The improvements were just one part of the state’s long-term deal with the NFL franchise. The state also agreed to make direct cash payments of up to $6 million a year to the Saints if their revenue falls short and to lease space in an office building owned by the Benson family.
The new agreement freed the state from a previous deal that guaranteed the Saints cash inducements that were difficult to pay from the proceeds of a hotel tax. The state was making up the difference.