Will Saints Go Marching Out?

The Louisiana Superdome should be cleaned up and ready for the New Orleans Saints to return for at least part of the 2006 football season, but it might not be soon enough for the hurricane-ravaged city to hold onto its team.

SMG Regional VP Doug Thornton announced October 21st that a temporary roof would be in place within 10 days and an environmental assessment of the structure’s interior should be completed by December 1st.

Environmental consultants are overseeing the removal of about 1.8 million square feet of wet carpet and drywall in the Dome, according to The Times-Picayune newspaper. The stadium also will be checked for other health hazards caused by rotting food and sewage backup.

“We’re working to make the Dome ready for next season,” Thornton said at a meeting of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District Commission, the state board that oversees the Superdome.

But the NFL’s Saints appear to be harboring other ideas, as it has been widely reported that team owner Tom Benson has been in talks with San Antonio officials to move the team to Texas permanently.

The Saints have claimed the team’s practice facility in Jefferson Parish, owned by the state of Louisiana, was damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Katrina and by federal agencies in the weeks following the August 29th storm.

“These actions have effectively terminated the Saints’ lease for the facility and have caused great and continuing damage to the team,” said a letter that the Saints’ lawyers sent to the Louisiana National Guard and the stadium commission.

Tim Coulon, head of the commission and the state’s negotiator with the team, said state officials planned to inspect damage at the practice facility in late October.

“If there’s some damage to those buildings, we’re going to rectify that,” Coulon said.

At the adjacent New Orleans Arena, parking lots used as landing strips for military helicopters and building supports are being inspected for structural damage before the venue will be reopened.

Arena officials are hoping the building will be ready to host the final three home games of the New Orleans Hornet’s NBA season in the spring.

There’s also concern for the city’s Essence Music Festival, which in past years has taken place at the Superdome. Thornton said the Essence fest would stage a modified event next summer at the New Orleans Arena and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

“That may or may not work,” Thornton was quoted as saying by The Times-Picayune. “If we don’t repair the Superdome quickly, these events will go to other cities for a year, and that increases the likelihood they won’t come back” because other cities may make offers to keep them.