The New Orleans Saints will give refunds to season ticket holders who want them due to the vaccine mandate and mask rules in place for home games this season, the team announced Thursday.
Season ticket holders have until Tuesday at 4 p.m. to request refunds for the 2021 season. Those requesting refunds will be removed from the season ticket list for future seasons.
However, the State Bond Commission voted 12-2 shortly after the announcement to delay approval on $28 million in improvements to the Caesars Superdome because of what officials called lingering questions about the Saints' season ticket policies.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, led the effort to put off the issue until the commission's September meeting. Cortez said that while the Saints announced that they were changing their ticket refund policy, questions remain that need more attention. He said the delay will allow time to "discuss what the policy is going to be in the future."
During the same meeting the Bond Commission put the brakes on $30 million in cash lines of credit for projects in New Orleans. Mayor LaToya Cantrell declined comment.
The list of New Orleans projects in line for immediate aid that are delayed include Old VA renovations, $1 million; Westbank Ferry Terminal Construction, $300,000; repairs to historic structures in City Park, $250,000; Port of New Orleans Jourdan Road Cold Storage facility, $8 million; Port of New Orleans Napoleon Avenue container expansion, $13.1 million and Louisiana Children's Medical Center behavioral health expansion, $1.4 million.
Football fans will have to show proof that they've received at least one COVID-19 vaccination, or alternatively a recent negative PCR-style coronavirus test, to enter the Caesars Superdome and Champions Square on game day. The rule is in accordance with local guidelines set by Cantrell last week that created a vaccine mandate for restaurants, bars, gyms, stadiums, arenas and several other indoor activities.
Houma Rep. Jerome "Zee" Zeringue, the Republican budget committee chairman who sought to pull financing for many of the New Orleans projects, acknowledged after the meeting the city's vaccine requirement was one of several reasons.
"It's not entirely about the vaccine mandate," Zeringue said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There are many issues, of which that's a concern that's been expressed by legislators and folks in the region. But that's not the only reason."
Administration sources said they were blindsided by the Bond Commission’s actions and still have not been told directly why the approval was deferred or what conditions would need to be met for approval.
The Saints initially said they would not offer refunds to season ticket holders or an opt out option after they said fans would have to show proof of a vaccination for the coronavirus, or a negative test, to enter the stadium. Shortly before the commission meeting began at 10 a.m. the team said it would allow fans to get refunds on their tickets for the 2021 season.
Team spokesperson Greg Bensel said about 120 people have reached out to the team about a potential refund before the new guidelines were announced, though many more have sought tickets. "We have received thousands of calls from interested fans wanting to purchase any season tickets made available by current season ticket holders seeking refunds," Bensel said in a prepared statement.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, a commission member, said the Saints policy needs to go further to allow opt outs.
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Matthew Block, executive counsel for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said he was confused by why a delay is needed since the Saints announced they would provide refunds for fans.
Block said the Superdome improvements were discussed extensively during the 2021 regular legislative session. "I am not sure what is the end goal," he said, adding some of the stadium improvements are on tight timelines.
Cortez said the improvements involve taxpayer-funded upgrades for suites and other areas that benefit the Saints.
After the meeting, Cortez said the cash line of credit for Superdome improvements — one of the two items delayed — totals $2.8 million in a $450 million project. "It is not going to stop the project in any shape or form," he said.
The other postponed item is a $25 million noncash line of credit for the upgrades. A cash line of credit means a project is in line for immediate help. A noncash line of credit means it has a place in line but is dependent on future dollars.
The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the state-sponsored entity often known as the Superdome Commission that oversees the Dome and other state-owned venues, submitted the two requests for Superdome upgrades.
Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report