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Q&A with New Orleans Saints and Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha

New Orleans Saints and Pelicans president discusses the current status of the Caesars Superdome renovation

Exterior photo of Caesars Superdome
Exterior photo of Caesars Superdome

Doug Tatum, a long-time, respected Times-Picayune sports editor who is now vice president of digital media for the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, sat down with New Orleans Saints and Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha to discuss the current status of the Caesars Superdome renovation.

QUESTION: "Dennis, thank you for sitting down with me. What is the No. 1 priority of the team as fans and ticket holders read and hear about tensions between the LSED and the Saints regarding the Caesars Superdome renovations?"

ANSWER: "Creating a great fan experience is what drives us and these renovations. I think it's important to go back to what this historic renovation of the Caesars Superdome was all about - creating the best possible fan experience and preserving an iconic state-owned stadium for decades to come. We have had a very positive, and mutually beneficial, working relationship with the state over the last 15 years or so where we were able to align all parties' interests so everyone could benefit, most importantly, our fans. This allowed us to enter into a partnership with the state where we would essentially foot the bill for fan amenity improvements (wider concourses, improved concessions, technology upgrades, etc.) while they covered the costs for infrastructure repairs and upgrades. We worked closely with the state, LSED and ASM to create a multi-year construction plan that would allow us to continue to play games, continue to host major events and still produce a best in class experience for our fans. We are really proud of the result and the impact it will have for our fans, as well as the role this transformative renovation will have on our ability to attract major events."

QUESTION: "Can you explain and update the fans on the current agreement the team has with the state and the details of how the construction/renovation partnership works?"

ANSWER: "The Saints and the State of Louisiana announced in 2019 that we had agreed to a long-term deal along with a $450 million renovation to the Caesars Superdome. At that time, the Saints committed to pay $150 million of the $450 million. When we agreed to make the $150 million investment in the long-term future of the Caesars Superdome, it came with the mutually agreed upon commitment from the State, LSED and the Saints to execute a long-term lease. We want to be in New Orleans for the long term. The deal terms were staying the same but with some updated language and terms that reflected changes to the building since the existing 2009 stadium lease, to recognize the team's investment in the building and to reflect current operations. A fundamental component of the agreement was the team's current rights in the building would be preserved, and possibly enhanced. Ultimately, we decided not to pursue additional rights in the building and to just preserve the current rights that had proven to be successful for both the team and the state. We were assured the process of drafting the new deal would be completed relatively promptly, and since neither party wanted to do anything to slow down the construction in the Caesars Superdome, we began funding without an agreement being executed relying on the good faith and positive working relationship we have enjoyed with the state, LSED and ASM."

QUESTION: "Wednesday, while the LSED had assembled much of the local media, it claimed that the Saints have not paid construction bills since December. Can you explain?"

ANSWER: "Yes, I thought it interesting to see the full media contingent at the LSED meeting. That was a first. But relative to the payments, we agreed that all parties would work in good faith to complete the lease documents while construction proceeded and both parties would fund the project. We have had numerous positive discussions, and even though a new deal was not executed, the team continued its payments, in good faith. Over the course of trying to finalize our long-term commitment to the state over the last two years, there was never any indication that the fundamental terms we agreed to when we entered into the renovation partnership were in doubt. Beginning in December, however, we started receiving indications from the LSED and ASM that they wanted to discuss rolling back some of the rights granted to the team in the current lease. This was clearly not what was agreed to and shocking, to say the least, given how fundamental those rights were to making the partnership function as designed. Given that threat, we told ASM and the LSED that we would have no choice but to hold up construction payments until they agreed to live up to the commitments they made to preserving our rights. We had positive conversations with them and, as a result, continued to make payments. Unfortunately, as we continued to exchange drafts there were further attempts to diminish the team's rights and we again warned the LSED we would have to hold payments if they continued to go back on their commitment. We thought the issue was finally resolved in a meeting with ASM and the LSED on March 20, 2024, where they reaffirmed their commitment to preserving the team's current rights. Instead, the LSED sent back a draft document that not only did not represent what was agreed to in that meeting, but further diminished the team's rights and protections. This was, obviously, a significant setback and an unnecessary delay. Despite our repeated best and good faith efforts to get this agreement executed, or at least significantly advanced, through numerous communications, the lease remains mired in the abyss. We informed ASM and the LSED on numerous occasions we would withhold any further payments until significant progress was made. We assumed with relatively little conversation and negotiation this could easily be accomplished. Shockingly, we have received almost no communication and, in fact, members of the LSED's negotiation team were instructed not to speak to us for days."

QUESTION: "How much money have the Saints already contributed to the Caesars Superdome renovation work?"

ANSWER: "The original cost estimate was $450 million, with the Saints contributing $150 million, however, there have been budget and scope increases. The total project estimate has come in at $550 million, which includes an increase in the overall budget. In good faith, the New Orleans Saints agreed in 2021 that we would participate in and incur these additional budget increases. To date, we have paid the LSED $144.7 million. Our one-third share is $183 million. Our last payment was made on March 28, 2024, days following our March 20 meeting where we thought a consensus had been reached on the terms of a long-term lease. That payment was in the amount of $25.1 million."

QUESTION: "The LSED claims in a media statement that it has given the Saints all the documents they have requested. What are the exact documents you are asking for from the LSED and why is the team tying the renovation payments to the lease agreement?"

ANSWER: "First off, it is absolutely disingenuous and unprofessional for the LSED to make a statement that they are unaware of what we are looking for, which I believe they have since admitted. In December, as noted previously, the LSED was informed that material progress toward a long-term lease had to be made or payments would be stopped. In March, a meeting was held whereupon issues were discussed, and resolutions agreed to. As of late of last week, sufficient progress was not made and the Saints reached out to tell them, yet again, that payments would not be made until significant progress on the lease was accomplished. They responded that they were in agreement with approximately 85% to 90% of the most recent draft we sent them on May 9. In good faith and wanting to complete the agreement, we asked that any remaining issues be sent by close of business on Monday, May 20, which they agreed to do. We also let them know that if the 10% to 15% of disputed issues were reasonable, that 85% or 90% was agreed to, and that the request was not an erosion of current rights, we would immediately make a payment. Not only was the deadline missed but multiple calls and messages were not returned. Again, it should be noted that as of today, we have still not received the 10% to 15% of disputed items. This is particularly frustrating as we offered to make the funding payment if we could just confirm their issues. If the issues are what they have vaguely referenced, we feel we could knock out an agreement in an afternoon and make a payment the next day. We can't resolve issues they won't share with us, nor can we be expected to negotiate against ourselves."

QUESTION: "The media took every advantage to characterize Mrs. Benson and the Saints as either not having the money to complete their payments or simply delinquent? What is the deal?"

ANSWER: "We absolutely have the money to pay. In fact, we have already paid $144.7 million of our $183 million to this renovation. For anyone at the LSED or media member to suggest otherwise is extremely offensive, unfounded, and insulting to Mrs. Benson - who gives so much to the community. To be accurate, it is not Mrs. Benson who is making payment, but the New Orleans Saints. It should be noted that, as a further sign of good faith, the Saints had previously offered to the LSED's legal counsel that the Saints would escrow their unfunded balance until enough progress had been made toward the lease agreement to pay the entire remaining amount- not just what is currently due. The LSED made no response to this offer."

QUESTION: "How will a delay in construction impact any upcoming events at the Caesars Superdome (i.e. Essence Fest, Saints season etc.)?"

ANSWER: "The construction must continue and the LSED must work in good faith with us to reach an agreement. We have a very tight schedule and the actions of the LSED truly jeopardize short- and long-term stability. We stand ready to finalize a deal and as noted, the money is ready to be authorized in a moment's notice once we make progress in good faith on the deal. We had a call Thursday with the NFL about the potential impact on the Super Bowl and, while league officials are concerned, they absolutely agree with the necessity to conclude a long-term agreement (or make progress toward one) before providing more funding. And it should be noted that some of the unfortunate collateral damage from this LSED meeting is that the New Orleans Pelicans fans suffer, as well. The LSED is halting any master plan discussions relative to the Smoothie King Center. Pelicans fans and the NBA have no connection to the Caesars Superdome issues."

QUESTION: "What are next steps?"

ANSWER: "Like we said in our statement, we have always had a great relationship with ASM, LSED and the state. We continue to have a great relationship. Governor Landry spoke briefly Thursday to the media and spoke highly of our organization, knowing that we will work this out. We are grateful to Governor Landry not only for this partnership, but his leadership in our efforts to host the 2025 Super Bowl. In fact, Governor Landry called Mrs. Benson Thursday night and they had a wonderful conversation. Following that call, the LSED attorney reached out to us stating that they want to meet with us to resolve our impasse and we welcome that."

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