Kudos To…Saint Kathleen?

In today’s Lafayette Advertiser sports section is a curious article ascribing credit for New Orleans’ Super Bowl jubilation to an unusual source.

Namely, former Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco.

The piece, written by Advertiser sportswriter Brady Aymond, takes the position that Blanco’s decision to rebuild the Superdome rather than build a new stadium played a part in the celebration of the Saints’ earning a Super Bowl trip with last night’s 31-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

Following Hurricane Katrina, government officials wrestled with the decision to either rebuild the Louisiana Superdome or tear it down.

Blanco ultimately fought to keep the Superdome around, saying that it was a symbol of the city and its resolve.

Sunday night, a record crowd of 71,276 made it all worth it.

Whether Aymond, who is one of the state’s better sportswriters, has an agenda behind such a statement is an interesting question; there does appear to be a campaign of sorts to quietly rebuild the failed former governor’s image afoot in some circles (to what end is not known). He might just be looking for a Lafayette angle for a Saints-to-the-Super-Bowl piece.

But the fact is, as a description of reality it’s difficult to apply too much credit to the former governor for the rebuilding of the Superdome. Yes, Blanco made the right decision to rebuild the venerable sports arena, and the renovated Superdome is a fabulous facility once again.

From a simple financial standpoint, rebuilding the Dome rather than starting over with a new stadium was a no-brainer. Estimates of the costs of building a new stadium ranged anywhere from $450 million to $700 million at the time, while in rebuilding the Superdome the state’s cost exposure was almost nil. As CBS News reported four years ago when the building reopened:

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for $115 million worth of repairs. The state put up $13 million, as required by FEMA. The Louisiana Stadium & Expedition District refinanced a bond package used for other sports facilities in the area to secure $41 million, and the NFL contributed a $15 million grant.”

So in other words, rebuilding the Superdome was a $184 million solution which got the Saints back into the building in time for the 2006 season, while a new stadium was going to cost some $500-600 million or so, most of which would be financed by state dollars and likely put the Saints in San Antonio or elsewhere at least one more year – putting the franchise in far greater danger of permanently disappearing from the Crescent City.

While Blanco might have done a nice job in getting the Dome functional again, she was missing in action in helpng to restore the area around the Superdome back to commerce. It fell to her successor Bobby Jindal to do something with Dominion Tower and the New Orleans Centre retail area, including those properties in a deal with Saints owner Tom Benson which locks the team into New Orleans for the foreseeable future and gives the area around the Superdome an opportunity to become a tourist and commercial venue once again.

Blanco had three years to promote the economic development of the area around the Superdome and accomplished nothing; no amount of rehabilitation of her governorship will change the fact that what she did was the bare minimum one might expect from a leader in her position.

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