New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner/Chairman of the Board Tom Benson was honored by the New Orleans community, including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, for his contributions to the people of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans throughout his career.
The larger-than-life bronze statue features the likeness of Benson holding the Lombardi Trophy won by the Saints on February 7, 2010 as his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV. The 13-and-a-half-foot statue was created by nationally acclaimed sculptor Brian Hanlon of Hanlon Sculpture Studio in Toms River, New Jersey. A classically trained master sculptor, Hanlon's work can be seen across the country and nearby, as he created the statue of Shaquille O'Neal in Baton Rouge at LSU and the Steve Gleason statue in New Orleans. The bronze statue of Benson weighs 1,500 pounds and stands nine-and-a-half feet tall and is mounted on a granite base weighing 10,000 pounds and standing four-feet tall. "The statue is a proper tribute to the aesthetic, spiritual and tremendous fan-infused New Orleans landscape," said Hanlon.
"This is a richly deserved tribute to a larger-than-life icon of the greater New Orleans community," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "Tom Benson's legacy is now permanently and visibly recognized in his hometown. We are thrilled for Tom, Gayle and the Benson family."
"Long before becoming the owner of the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012, Tom Benson had proven himself to be a giant in the New Orleans community, working tirelessly to support the people of the Gulf South and Greater New Orleans," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. "With over three decades of advocacy for projects ranging from cancer research to education, Tom is one of a kind, and it's only fitting that he should forever loom large over Champions Square."
Governor Jindal said, "My friend Tom Benson has invested his time, money and efforts into this great city for many, many years – and because of his efforts and the work of countless others, New Orleans is back and better than ever. He believed in the Saints when not many people did, and his support for the team proved to be a game changer. The success of the Saints and Pelicans is due in large part to Tom's leadership and management over the years, and his contributions throughout this community represent multiple chapters in Louisiana's economic success story. This statue will serve as a constant reminder of our gratitude and the many contributions of Tom Benson to New Orleans and our state."
"I thank Tom Benson for his continued commitment to New Orleans and for serving as our city's ultimate ambassador. Through his leadership of two successful sports franchises, he has helped to showcase the resilience of our city on a national stage and played a huge role in rebuilding thriving anchors that attract millions from across the globe annually. We thank the entire Benson family for their continued investment and passion for New Orleans at every level," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
"Mr. Benson's faith and generosity serve as an example to many of us as we strive to use our gifts to make this world more just and loving in God' s sight," said Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
The essential qualities and directives of Benson's tenure as owner of the Saints have been unadorned – direct all of his efforts and resources towards bringing the fans what have been consistently new levels of success on the football field, all the while supporting his hometown and the entire region by investing in the community. Benson has understood since purchasing the club in 1985 that the Saints are part of the fabric of the Gulf South: a cornerstone of the region economically and he has made them a leader in charitable causes and, since purchasing New Orleans' NBA team in 2012, has applied those same philosophies to the Pelicans' efforts.
Benson's tenure of ownership of the Saints has been a period defined by historic advancements in successes, whether it be measured by victories, playoff appearances, Mercedes-Benz Superdome attendance figures, national television coverage, positive economic impacts both locally and regionally, as well as serving as one of the most philanthropic and charitable citizens in the city's rich and colorful history.
The Saints' successful march to the NFL's Championship level has been the crown jewel of many highlights that the franchise has experienced both on and off the field since 2006. This period, featuring the Super Bowl title, two NFC Championship appearances, three division championships and five playoff berths, combined with a commitment to rebuild and enhance the Gulf South region, has embodied the testament and realization of the principles that Benson has instilled in the Saints' organization throughout his 29 years of team ownership.
While his work within the organization and the Saints' turnaround is well-documented, his efforts have also paid dividends for the city and the surrounding area. During his ownership tenure, the city has hosted five Super Bowls, including Super Bowl XLVII, which was played on February 3, 2013, following a vote by NFL owners after Benson directed a successful campaign during the annual league meetings in May, 2009. He's been the driving force behind each campaign to secure the contest, and made this latest accomplishment his top priority in an effort to present the recovery of New Orleans on an international level. Each Super Bowl has been an economic windfall, the most recent totaling $480 million, not to mention the exposure and charitable contributions the NFL makes during Super Bowl week and that extend for generations.
His dedication to the Gulf South region has been among Benson's most rewarding endeavors. Since 2005, the New Orleans native has positioned the Saints as a leader in the recovery of the region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in our nation's history. The club was among the first major businesses to return to New Orleans, and in 2006 had a thrilling season that became an inspiration for a region on the mend. In 2010, through his leadership, the club established the Saints Gulf Coast Renewal Fund, which raised over $1.5 million through raffles of a Super Bowl XLIV championship ring and Saints and Pelicans gameday experiences to help benefit the response to natural disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Isaac. Over one million dollars have been distributed to deserving charities, such as the local chapters of the Second Harvest Food Bank and Catholic Charities, to help provide support to those affected. The efforts of the organization have continued to lift the community, with the team serving as an economic engine and a pacesetter in philanthropic contributions.
Under Benson's guidance, the Saints have been a focal point for healing and restoration – annually putting $15 million in charitable contributions, goods and services back into the Gulf South and Greater New Orleans. He pledged the club's commitment to the region was firm and lasting, with his focus on building a stronger and more unified city. It's a direction that continues to evolve and expand.
Some of Benson's most ambitious projects to date have occurred in New Orleans' Central Business District, directly adjoining the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, starting with his 2009 purchase of the formerly vacant and blighted Dominion Tower. As part of the agreement, Benson and his family also purchased the unoccupied New Orleans Centre. The two important commercial spaces, which were vacant since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, have returned the CBD into a more vibrant and viable sector of New Orleans and revitalized an area that was largely ignored for four years. The newly renovated Benson Tower has served as a boon to this important business corridor, while "Champions Square", which made its debut in 2010 adjacent to the former mall, is continually being developed and enhanced with the ultimate objective of producing a world-class sports and entertainment destination.
Benson's economic investment plan, which included 2009 agreements on both a private and public level, has revitalized the Mercedes-Benz Superdome area, and the agreement with the state included a dramatic modernization of the stadium which was completed in 2011. Following the debut of the renovations, the Saints, under Benson's leadership and Mercedes-Benz USA reached a 10-year agreement to rename the facility the "Mercedes-Benz Superdome." The stadium upgrades and rebranding with his help include a legion of new enhancements that have significantly improved the fan experience for all events at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and kept the building competitive with new facilities across the country.
In 2008, he purchased WVUE, making FOX-8 the only network-affiliated television station in the New Orleans market that is wholly locally owned. After researching the trends of the media industry, Benson discovered television stations have increasingly become parts of national media conglomerates, and his focus remains on keeping Louisiana businesses, such as WVUE, owned by those with ties to the state.
In June, 2012, Benson continued his commitment to the Gulf South by purchasing the NBA Hornets franchise, which was successfully rebranded as the Pelicans. His objectives in ownership of the basketball team are the same as his stewardship of the Saints: to produce a team on-the-court that will compete for championships every year, while making a significant positive impact off-the-court in the community.
For his humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors that have positively affected the lives of so many individuals and groups, Benson honored in 2012 by the Catholic Church with an Oblate Doctor of Human Letters (to a person who has achieved the human purpose for which Divine Providence Placed Him on Earth) certificate that honors his "realities of the most noble of human endeavors, weighted by criteria arising from the deepest human values." The certificate also honors "excellence in the area of life where excellence makes the most difference," and further cites his "attributes and accomplishments that come closest to what God would be interested in honoring." In 2012, Benson and his wife, the former Gayle Marie LaJaunie, a fellow native of New Orleans, received from Pope Benedict XVI the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award – for outstanding service to the Church and the Pontiff, the highest Papal award granted to a lay person.
The Bensons are also personally involved in several charitable endeavors, including supporting local and regional causes. In 2012, Mr. and Mrs. Benson established the Brother Nicholas, S.C. Building Endowment to support Brother Martin High School (formerly St. Aloysius, from where he graduated). In 1986, his alma mater honored Benson as their Alumnus of the Year. Educated at Loyola University New Orleans, Benson has made a pledge for the construction of a new Jesuit Center in 2010, contributed to the creation of the Jesuit Social Research Institute in 2008 and helped fund the first phase of construction of a chemistry wing in 1999. In recognition of their longstanding support of Catholic education, the Bensons received the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the National Catholic Educational Association in 2010. In March, 2012 they were inducted by Tulane University into the Paul Tulane Society, recognizing their significant generosity to the school. In supporting the school's construction of an on-campus stadium the Green Wave will start playing on "Benson Field" this weekend.
A cancer survivor, Benson has also worked closely with the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans with the Establishment of the Tom and Gayle Benson Cancer Center, a $20-million treatment complex.
Supporting the efforts of former Saints safety Steve Gleason and his Team Gleason organization which helps provide people with ALS and other debilitating conditions and environment where they can live vital and productive lives with meaningful freedom and independence, Mr. and Mrs. Benson recently committed $5 million to the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living at the New Orleans St. Margaret's facility.
In 1945, Benson served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. South Dakota and has remained particularly close to this branch of the armed forces. He is the only enlisted man to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Pensacola Naval Museum and has been honored with an award from the crew of the submarine U.S.S. Louisiana. In 2007, Benson was honored by the U.S. Navy Memorial with the Lone Sailor Award, presented to those who exemplify the core values of honor, courage and commitment. In 2009, Benson was presented with U.S. Army's Army Strong Award in recognition for his position in the community while demonstrating leadership and Army Values on a daily basis.
A leading advocate for the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., Benson was also a major contributor and past director of The National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, with his pledges helping fund the Pacific Exhibit Grand Opening and the Midway Theater. In 2011, he was among five NFL owners honored with an American Spirit Award by the museum for service in the war.