Officials here were completing arrangements Tuesday for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) to meet this weekend with New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in an effort to keep the Saints from relocating permanently.
The Saints have been based in San Antonio since being displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, and Benson reportedly is interested in keeping the team there next season and perhaps beyond. But state officials said they remain hopeful of convincing Benson and Tagliabue that the Saints should return to Louisiana. Blanco is to make her case beginning this weekend when the club is in Baton Rouge, La., to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in the first of four games scheduled to be played at LSU's Tiger Stadium.
"We're optimistic about [having a meeting] this week when the commissioner is in town and Mr. Benson is in town," Tim Coulon, the chairman of the state commission that oversees the Superdome, said here Tuesday. "The governor has made it a goal of hers. I think those meetings are being set as we speak."
Superdome officials said it's possible that repairs to the building, damaged by Katrina and the subsequent flooding, could be completed by next October and the Saints could play a portion of their 2006 home schedule at the facility. The repairs are projected to cost between $125 million and $200 million, and officials are debating whether to make $175 million worth of previously planned upgrades to the stadium as well.
State officials would like for the Saints to return to New Orleans next season and play their home games in Baton Rouge until the Superdome is ready. Coulon, the state's point man in lease negotiations with the Saints, said there's been no recent dialogue with the team but thinks a solution could be worked out.
"If the interested people want to resolve an issue, we can resolve it," Coulon said.
It's unclear whether Blanco, Benson and Tagliabue will meet as a group or if the three will participate in a series of one-on-one meetings. Tagliabue was instrumental in having the Saints play more of their home games this season in Baton Rouge than in San Antonio. The team, for the sake of convenience, might have preferred to play more games at the Alamodome in San Antonio. It has played two games there and has one more scheduled in December.
The Saints have until Nov. 27 to exercise a clause in their lease that would enable them to break the lease if the Superdome is deemed unusable. Under those circumstances, the club could leave New Orleans without having to repay the state $81 million in subsidies, as the team would have to do to break the lease otherwise. The Saints already have taken steps to try to void their lease at their training facility in the New Orleans area.