saints (n.) - NFL franchise presently based in New Orleans; boondoggle (n.) - an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity; saintsdoggle (n.) - the Saints' potential relocation situation in New Orleans, and the resulting boondoggle by Louisiana to keep the team from leaving

Saturday, June 04, 2005

New Orleans area officials getting worried, with good reason

Today's New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that government officials from Orleans and Jefferson Parish are at odds with Governor Kathleen Blanco over funding for the New Orleans Saints, and that they are very concerned with what will happen if the team leaves the city after the upcoming 2005 season.

The story, entitled "Saints tax plan stalls in House," provides interesting insight into New Orleans area politicians' growing discontent with Blanco over the governor's proposed tax plan. (The taxes, projected to pull in $15 million annually, would come from the tourism industry in New Orleans through car rental and hotel tax increases, as well as ticket and concession surcharges to Superdome events including Saints games. Officials from New Orleans would rather the funds come from the rest of the state, in spite of a majority of Louisianians not wanting any more statewide tax money spent on keeping Tom Benson's pockets lined.)

The most intriguing part of the article notes one reason New Orleans politicians are against a $15 million tax increase in their local area:
"Generally, the Orleans and Jefferson lawmakers support the idea of raising additional local revenue to support a new, long-term deal with the Saints, participants on both sides of the talks said. But since that has not materialized, the lawmakers have been asking what exactly Blanco wants to do with the new tax revenue. They fear Blanco might be raising a permanent tax to support a team that won't be here next year...Local lawmakers also are wondering how much, if any, the local area will get of the $81 million owed the state if the Saints pull out next year."
An amendment to the proposed tax bill is also garnering consideration by state representative Rick Farrar of Pineville. The amendment would limit the taxes to just one year in the event the Saints do decide to leave after the 2005 season.

The fact that so many officials are voicing their concern about a tax bill put in place to support a team that won't be there next year, and asking what will be done with the money owed by Benson if he does opt out of his contract with Louisiana after the upcoming season, is evidence that they understand the Saints leaving after 2005 is a very realistic possibility.

Let's remember what Benson really wants, and why he cut off negotiations with the state. Looking back to a Houston Chronicle article from November 20, 2004, entitled "Owner says Saints could be headed to Los Angeles," Benson gave a February 1, 2005 deadline for Louisiana to either (a) agree to build a new stadium, (b) extend or enhance the current agreement, or (c) tell the team to leave. In the event a new stadium is not built, the following applied:

"Benson will agree to stay in New Orleans through 2020 if he gets:
  1. A $168 million Superdome renovation
  2. A continuation of the annual state-funded cash inducement that was $15 million this year and will increase to $23.5 million in 2008
  3. A 25-acre tailgate park that is estimated to cost between $5 million and $10 million
  4. A state-operated multi-sport facility
  5. Development of eight acres of land next to the team’s practice facility so he can build a hotel and relocate the team’s Hall of Fame
  6. A sports-oriented redevelopment of the New Orleans Centre shopping mall that’s connected to the Superdome that will be modeled after the new atrium at the renovated Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

"And, get this, Benson wants the income but doesn’t intend to pay a penny out of his pocket for any of it. Some close to the Saints believe he’s making such preposterous demands because he wants Louisiana to turn him down so he can move his team to Los Angeles."

The demands Benson expressed in November for stadium renovations were outlandish. So what's changed since then? Well, Louisiana wants to renovate the Superdome and cut back on the escalating annual payments. Benson now says that's out, and he demands a new stadium. If you'll recall, he said recently that there had "better be a new stadium in place by 2010."

Given the current state of things, that is highly unlikely.

New Orleans area officials, and Saints fans everywhere, have good reason to be concerned.