The Mercedes-Benz Superdome's governing body on Wednesday embarked on the first phase of what is expected to be a $450 million makeover of the stadium, the first major renovation of the nearly half-century-old building since the repairs that followed Hurricane Katrina.

The board of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, also known as the Superdome Commission, selected the local firm Broadmoor LLC to manage what will be the first phase of the upgrade.

Estimated to cost $100 million, the initial phase will include removing 80,000 square feet of interior ramps and installing a more fan-friendly system of escalators and elevators. It also includes the construction of a large kitchen and food-service area in space currently being used for parking.

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to pay a third of the overall costs.

All four phases of the overhaul are expected to be completed before the Superdome hosts Super Bowl LVIII in 2024.

Mike Hoss, a spokesman for the Superdome Commission and SMG, which manages the state-owned building, said the renovation master plan hasn't been finalized. But he said it currently includes a combination of mundane improvements, such as easing mobility, and suite upgrades, plus standing-room-only areas comparable to the ones at stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons.

"They’re like bars aimed at the younger fans," Hoss said. "They're ticketed, but it's like watching the game from a club." 

The commission chose New Orleans-based Trahan Architects last year to work up digital designs, which included the basic improvements plus a "wish list" of other upgrades, potentially including a new tailgating area.

There are still plenty of decisions left to be made, such as what to do with the grass parkway on Poydras Street near the stadium, officials said.

Under the terms of the financing deal, the Saints have agreed to fund one-third of the project costs, or up to about $150 million, and the LSED will fund $210 million through the issuing of bonds, assuming the State Bond Commission approves its request this summer.

Superdome Commission Chairman Kyle France said additional funds, up to the total of $450 million, are still being negotiated with the state. But he said the commission and the Saints are hoping to keep costs in check so any request for taxpayer dollars will be as small as possible.

"We don’t know if we’ll have to go there or not, and hopefully we won’t. We’ll have to see as the project goes along," France said.

The additional funding, if needed, will come directly from the state and is still being negotiated, though Gov. John Bel Edwards has voiced support for the overall project.


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"I’m supportive of a reasonable effort that would result in the Superdome being renovated so it can remain a competitive venue," Edwards said Wednesday. "There are more discussions that have to take place on that," he added, but "I happen to believe that Phase I is on the reasonable side."

The Superdome, which opened in 1975, hasn't had a major renovation since a $376 million multi-phase project to fix the stadium in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 

The storm ripped through the stadium's roof while it served as a refuge of last resort for thousands of people fleeing the storm. The repairs fixed the damaged roof while also replacing seats and scoreboards and upgrading club facilities.

A $40 million renovation completed before the 2016 football season added massive video boards behind each end zone.

In recent years, new stadiums have been important bargaining chips for cities bidding to host marquee events such as the NCAA Final Four and the Super Bowl.

Local officials have argued that in order to keep New Orleans in the running for these events — and to keep bringing in the tax dollars they generate from visitors — the Superdome needs to be upgraded. The Dome will host the College Football Playoff national title game in 2020. The Final Four, which crowns the NCAA men’s basketball champion, will be held there in 2022.

The commission is still negotiating with the Saints and Pelicans to extend their leases beyond their 2025 expiration dates. The Saints have previously linked the lease extension to progress on the renovation plan, people involved on both sides of the talks said.

The movement on the renovations, and the financial outlay from the Saints organization, make it more likely that the team will remain in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. 

The LSED is a state board consisting of seven members appointed by the governor. In addition to the Superdome and the adjcent Smoothie King Center, the board oversees the TPC Louisiana golf course, the Saints training facility, the Baby Cakes' ballpark on Airline Drive and the John A. Alario Sr. Event Center.

The type of contract awarded to Broadmoor — a so-called construction manager at-risk contract — allows it to work with the architects at an early stage and determine which design plans are feasible, and come up with a "gross maximum price" by the time construction is ready to begin next year, said Hoss.

Staff writer Tyler Bridges contributed to this report.


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Follow Anthony McAuley on Twitter, @AnthonyMcAuley2.