Five years after Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans, the city and the Superdome are making a comeback
1. The Saints and Their Superdome Home Five Years After Katrina As it was five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans, the Louisiana Superdome is at the center of that city's revitalization. And now its tenant, the New Orleans Saints, is the latest Super Bowl champion. As the Saints prepare to kick off their 2010 season, they're celebrating not only their remarkable win over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, but also the rebirth of their structural and spiritual home. Katrina caused such extensive damage that many doubted whether the Saints would ever play in New Orleans again. But in the last half-decade, the Louisiana Superdome has gone from a "shelter of last resort" for the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people who sought protection inside to the home of the reigning Super Bowl champs. Forget the $185 million it cost to repair and refurbish the Superdome following Katrina. The Superdome is in the process of a $320 million renovation, which will make it one of the most modern sports facilities in the U.S. Among the planned upgrades are 16 new luxury suites (bringing the building's total to 153), 3,100 new sideline seats, two new field-level lounges, and a remodeled Saints' locker room. Last year, the State of Louisiana and the Saints reached an agreement to extend the team's Superdome lease through 2025. What's more, according to the Saints and Superdome management contractor SMG, the Superdome upgrades will increase opportunities for more ancillary revenue for the franchise, thereby reducing Louisiana's obligations to the team under the old agreement. Phase I of the renovation was recently concluded, and Phase II will begin right after this season, ensuring that the Superdome is ready for its upcoming trifecta of mega-events: the 2012 BCS Championship Game, the 2012 NCAA Men's Final Four, and Super Bowl XLVII on February 3, 2013. Unveiling the New Champions Square
While it's far from a sure thing that the Saints will repeat their Super Bowl win—or even their Super Bowl berth—improvements to the Superdome and the new Champions Square adjacent to the stadium will be sure to delight Saints fans, no matter how their team does on the turf. Champions Square presented by Verizon (VZ) is the new special events space at the site of the former New Orleans Centre mall. The new fan entertainment area, Phase I of which opened to the public on Aug. 21, features a large music stage, street vendors, and food and merchandise kiosks, and it can accommodate more than 8,000 people. Visitors to Champions Square will be able to dine on food from an iconic group of restaurants that celebrate New Orleans's rich culinary heritage, including Acme Oyster House, Galatoire's, Drago's, and Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse. "As New Orleans and the Louisiana Superdome host numerous national sporting events over the coming years, including the 2013 Super Bowl, this new infrastructure will accentuate the fan experience," says SMG Senior Vice-President Doug Thornton. "Champions Square also can be an economic engine outside of sports, serving as the site of corporate events, festivals, and concerts." The Saints, the Superdome, and Champions Square are all important cogs in the city's and state's overall economic engine—all told, according to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, tourism generates $5 billion for New Orleans' economy, employs 70,000 people, and generates more tax revenue for the city than any other business sector. The number of annual visitors increased from 3.7 million in 2006 to 7.5 million in 2009, and from January to May this year, New Orleans was the No. 1 destination in the country for REVPAR growth, a hotel industry measure of success. Add that to the Saints' success on the field, and despite Katrina's lingering effects and the recent BP oil spill, the city has cause once again to laissez les bon temps rouler.
2. Kroenke Isn't Cranky: NFL Owners Vote Him In Besides a terrific "new" venue in New Orleans, the NFL has a new team owner this week. On Wednesday, the league convened a special half-day owners' meeting in Atlanta in which owners voted unanimously on Stan Kroenke's bid to purchase the St. Louis Rams. The league's finance committee recommended approval of Kroenke's bid on Tuesday, the committee presented its report on Wednesday, and Kroenke was in. Kroenke, already a 40 percent part owner of the Rams, exercised his right of first refusal to purchase the remaining 60 percent of the team back in April. While the Missouri businessman also owns the NBA's Denver Nuggets and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, he's steering clear of the NFL's cross-ownership rules (which prohibit owners of non-football franchises from getting a majority share of an NFL team) by transferring the Nuggets and Avalanche to family members—30-year-old son Josh Kroenke, for example, has gained responsibility within the Nuggets organization during the off-season, spearheaded contract negotiations with star forward Carmelo Anthony, and will be handed full operating control by yearend. Kroenke, who needed 24 of 32 owners' votes for approval, asked the NFL to allow him to buy the Rams in two installments and pay interest to the Rams' current owners for keeping a portion of the franchise. Another item on the NFL owners' plate on Wednesday: a discussion about whether to add two games to the NFL's regular season schedule. The 32 NFL teams currently play 16 regular-season games over a 17-week season. The new scheme would create an 18-week regular season and drop preseason preparations from four to two games. Owners assembled did not vote on the issue, citing the need for further discussion with the NFLPA and with their broadcast partners first. Adjustments to the schedule are one of many topics included in the NFL's ongoing talks with the NFL Players Assn. about their next collective bargaining agreement. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith reportedly had a "mostly friendly" meeting on Aug. 13, according to SI.com—the owners will get an update on that meeting and any advances in negotiations. The NFL CBA expires on Mar. 4, and, using the Green Bay Packers publicly disclosed financial statement as his example, NFL Executive Vice-President and General Counsel Jeff Pash last week wrote in a special contribution to the Green Bay Post-Gazette that the league has "shown the union how and why the current system does not work … [with] operating profits declining every year since 2006 while player costs continue to rise." Added Pash: "With a Collective Bargaining Agreement more firmly grounded in economic reality, we can fulfill the vision of NFL owners to improve the game, enhance the fan experience, and build a better NFL."