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On New Stadiums, Debatable proposals

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A bill sponsored by Louisiana State Representative Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) recently won passage in the state House. The bill requests that the Saints, the governor, and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development study the viability of building a new stadium and practice facility in New Orleans East, where the Plaza Mall now sits. The bill may be viewed here. The resolution is currently under Senate review, and is pending its approval.

Badon told the Associated Press that the proposed site would be more convenient for many Saints fans:

It’s closer to many north shore fans, Mississippi fans and even fans in Mobile, Ala. Many fans who come to catch a game might not want to deal with the hustle and bustle of downtown, and people who want to go downtown, it’s only 6.5 miles away.

The team's current lease with the Louisiana Superdome runs through 2010. Badon contends that when the current lease ends, the team will move to a more lucrative location, perhaps in Los Angeles. Saints owner Tom Benson has long maintained that the team needs improved facilities to remain viable in New Orleans. However, the Superdome is currently undergoing over $200 million in renovations. Saints spokesman Greg Bensel told the AP that Badon had "never formally approached the team before offering his resolution in the statehouse."

Mary Beth Romig, speaking on behalf of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, noted that the city has had "great successes in the past in hosting events, including major sporting events, because of our reputation for being one of America’s most walkable cities." Said Romig:

We would much rather see sporting facilities located near our great restaurants and hotels downtown. It made perfect sense to put the Superdome there when we first built it, and why mess with that success? Why change something that works and has been replicated by numerous other cities since?

PRO: The new stadium would keep the Saints in New Orleans past 2010. Even before the storm Benson said that the team would need a new facility if they were to remain in New Orleans. One may assume that a new lease would accompany any stadium, a lease that would keep the Saints in New Orleans for the forseeable future.

The New Orleans East location would provide eighty acres of land for the stadium, the practice facility, parking and tailgating areas. While it is not located in New Orleans proper, it is a short drive from the city. While Badon never formally approached the Saints, this does not preclude an informal conversation with the team. Hypothetically speaking, if Tom Benson is on board with this proposal, it's not the worst thing in the world.

Badon's assertion that proactivity--acting before the "11th hour"--will save the Saints is admirable, and probably correct. He imagines a scenario where the 12th hour is reached, "And the Saints say, ‘Sorry, L.A. offered a better deal.’ That’s always out there and we want to head off any competition."

CON: The notion that fans from Mississippi and Alabama would rather not deal with the "hustle and bustle" of traffic seems rather disengenuous. Fans who are willing to drive from another state to see a Saints game probably will not stop commuting just because of traffic. Traffic would also increase on the highway travelling from the city to the new site, and back.

The proposed New Orleans East site would be 6.5 miles away from the major downtown tourism and lodging center. Saints attendance would not suffer--anybody who has driven on I-10 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge on a Saturday morning knows that New Orleans residents will travel a great distance for a football game. As far as Super Bowls go, however, the allure of a new stadium would be cancelled out--not completely--by the distance from the major hotels. The Super Bowl is big business, and hosting one will be a big part of rebuilding.

Moreover, downtown businesses would suffer every Sunday. Saints games are huge events, drawing over seventy thousand people downtown on game day (that is a mighty conservative estimate). These people spend money. Taking their business away will certainly negatively affect commerce.
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The idea is sound. The Saints and the state of Louisiana need to get together now to figure out a plan for a new stadium that will be palatable to both sides, before Los Angeles re-claims Reggie Bush. In prompting an early discourse, Austin Badon is taking the prudent, necessary steps to ensure that a deal is reached with time to spare.

Yet I would rather see the Saints remain in downtown New Orleans than move to the East. The potential loss of a Superbowl is far too steep a price to pay for a new stadium outside of New Orleans proper. Renovated stadiums work--witness Soldier Field and Lambeau Field. The best case scenario may involve the Saints moving to Baton Rouge for a couple of seasons while the Superdome is renovated, or torn down and rebuilt. Hopefully within the next year a deal will be struck, and we can put talks of relocation to rest permanently.