Fans pack the Caesars Superdome for the first time since COVID-19 restricted attendance Saints first game against the New York Giants in New Orleans Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

After legislators wouldn’t go along with their initial plan to find the money to finish $450 million of renovations for the Superdome, the Edwards administration went to plan B and asked lawmakers to use some of the pandemic recovery money.

But backs are to the wall as contracts for the remaining two phases of the half-done project need to be signed in five weeks and that can’t happen unless the money is in the bank, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said Wednesday. Completion of the renovations to the Caesars Superdome are an essential part of keeping the Saints in New Orleans until 2055 as well as the city hosting Super Bowl LIX in 2025.

“We need to get this deal done by the end of the year,” Dardenne said. “We’ve been working on this feverishly to make certain we come up with the solution.”

Louisiana legislators, some of whom are tired of giving New Orleans state money, weren’t enthusiastic about the first plan to use a complicated financial arrangement that would have, basically, forgiven future payments on a state loan to let the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which runs the facility, instead use that money on construction. The state then wouldn’t have to dip into other funds.

“It was very clear that was not an avenue they wanted to follow,” Dardenne told The Advocate | The Times-Picayune.

So, as folks left for the Thanksgiving holiday, Dardenne said the administration filed what’s called a BA-7 asking the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget Committee to commit $26.8 million from the federal funds the state received to help the economy recover from the shutdowns required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If lawmakers again refuse, the district will quickly have to find another loan to cover the amount and that will add to the facility’s already deep debt, he said.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, or LSED, had to cancel events and used its available funds for upkeep and security while the Superdome was shuttered, Dardenne said.

“LSED got crushed,” Dardenne said. “They were basically shut down and that led to a huge revenue loss.”

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Relying on revenues from events it hosts and from hotel/motel taxes, money from hotel/motel taxes went down 72% and self-generated income dropped 90% since all scheduled events were cancelled because of COVID.

Congress passed in March the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The law provides $350 billion to help states, counties, cities, and tribal governments cover increased expenditures, replenish lost revenue, and mitigate economic harm from the COVID-19 pandemic. Those definitions fit the stadium district, but approving the use of those dollars for the Superdome would take money from other public entities that might need help.

The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget is authorized to allocate pandemic funds when the Legislature is not in session.

“LSED would use that money in a construction fund, to allow Phase 3 and 4 to proceed and also refinance the debt it currently owes,” Dardenne said. “That would enable the LSED to proceed with the contract.”

The State Bond Commission would have to approve before the Joint Budget committee does.

The Bond Commission is set to meet Dec. 16 and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget is scheduled for the following day, Dec. 17.

The state and the Saints are in the midst of negotiations over continuing the team’s lease with the Superdome, which expires in 2025. The terms being discussed would keep the Saints in New Orleans for another 10 years, with two 10-year renewals after that. The NFL prohibits teams from moving if it means breaking a lease.

But the lease is predicated on state government committing to finish the $450 million modernization that would bring the 50-year-old facility up to NFL standards before the 2025 Super Bowl. That construction is half done. More luxury suites, a new entry lobby, further concessions upgrades, and other improvements still need to be completed.

In August 2019, Louisiana agreed to renovate the Superdome at a cost of $450 million. The state would contribute $90 million, the LSED would give $210 million and the Saints, for the first time ever, would put up $150 million towards improvements.

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