Dome Sweet Dome
State officials, Saints exploring renovation of 43-year-old stadium and campus
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.
The trend in modern stadium construction is to build new, go big, and load up on amenities and unique experiences. All of that, of course, comes with a cost. Three of the most recent stadiums added to the NFL roster, each constructed within the last decade, all topped $1 billion – AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, cost $1.15 billion; the San Francisco 49ers home, Levi’s Stadium, cost $1.3 billion; and Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium came in at a cool $1.5 billion.
By comparison, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints, cost $134 million when it was built in the early 1970s. Part of the genius of the Superdome, conceptualized as a multi-sport arena with moveable field level stands that could accommodate football, baseball and basketball, is that it was built as a stadium inside a steel and aluminum shell. That design has benefitted the Dome over the decades since it opened in 1975; instead of growing outdated, it has allowed for updates and reconfigurations to modernize the building.
The Superdome was famously repaired after damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and remodeled in three stages between 2006 and 2010 at a cost of $320 million.
The updates have not been enough to keep up with the NFL’s Joneses, however. Although New Orleans had played host to the Super Bowl 10 times, most recently in 2013, The Big Easy lost out twice to other cities with newly constructed stadiums in its bid to host the league championship games in 2018 and 2019. This year’s game was played in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016. Next year’s game will be in Atlanta’s new venue, which opened last year.
That prompted state and Saints officials to explore another round of renovations in order to modernize the Superdome, keep New Orleans in the rotation as a host for Super Bowls, Final Fours and College Football Playoff championship games, and add lagniappe to extend the state’s and franchise’s Superdome lease negotiation, which expires in 2025. Word of the renovations helped the city land Super Bowl LVIII in 2024.
In March, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED), the state agency that oversees the Superdome, approved a $422,000 architectural survey, awarded to San Francisco-based Gensler Sports in May, to determine what amenities could be included in a potential remodel. In late July, the LSED approved $1.83 million in spending for New Orleans-based Trahan Architects to produce a construction timeline; renderings of what the Superdome could become, which will be made public in late 2018 or early 2019; and a cost estimate. The cost is projected to be between $150 million and $450 million, depending on the outcome of the survey, according to Savannah Chamblee, media coordinator for SMG New Orleans, which manages the Superdome and Smoothie King Center.
Some of the ideas include removal of the Gate A ramps along Poydras Street, the parking decks between the stadium and Champions Square to allow a green space outside of the stadium, several interior ramps that would be replaced with new concourses in the club-level space between the 30-yard lines, and removal of some seating in the terrace to provide standing-room-only areas. The plan also includes the addition of two street-level entrances at the building’s corners near Poydras Street, field-level suites behind the end zones, and windows added in the terrace, which would provide views of downtown New Orleans.
Dennis Lauscha, president of the Saints and Pelicans, said the renovation to the Superdome’s campus could also include the section of Girod Street between the Dome and arena that would provide a better outdoor pregame atmosphere for basketball fans.
The project is expected to take place between the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 13, 2020 and the Final Four in early April 2022 or Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024, with work performed in the football offseason, except during the annual Essence Festival.
DID YOU KNOW?
Investing in Championships
In the next six years, three of the nation’s biggest championship sporting events are expected to create an economic impact of more than $852 million and create state tax revenue in excess of $30 million. A proposed Superdome renovation estimated between $150 million and $500 million could draw more events and money to the city.