NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Massive ramps inside the Superdome could become a thing of the past under a Dome renovation package designed to keep the Saints in New Orleans for up to 30 more years.
That package just cleared a first hurdle, but there is still much work to be done.
The ramps under the Superdome have transported tens of thousands of visitors over the past 43 years to see everyone from the Pope to the Rolling Stones, but they may soon be torn out.
“There’s 80,000 square feet of ramps in the Dome. We’re looking at tearing those out and putting in 20,000 square feet of vertical transportation,” said Kyle France, Chairman of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District.
The Superdome Commission just approved the first phase of a project that could create 60,000 square feet for standing room concession areas, similar to those built in other new stadiums in Dallas and Atlanta.
“A lot of states are building new stadiums. It’s just a money grab, but rebuilding what we have is what we’re best at,” said Ian Thibodeaux, a Saints fan.
The linchpin of the deal could include options that will extend the Saints’ commitment to staying in New Orleans all the way through 2055, 30 years beyond the current lease through 2025.
For the the team’s part, spokesman Greg Bensel says they are working closely with Dome managers and the state, and it’s still early in the process. But the Dome commission’s chairman says the Saints could be playing a significant role in the Dome improvement package.
“They’re gonna put up close to $150 million in a $400 million project, so that’s a real partner,” France said.
France says the Saints could recoup that money through enhanced concession sales as well as a new lease structure at Benson Tower. Right now, Dome officials hope to avoid seeking funds from the state by refinancing old bonds or selling new ones.
"A little bit of all that, there's old debt that we need to re-do, a lot of moving pieces," said France.
If all goes according to plan, the improvements could be in place by the time New Orleans hosts the next Super Bowl in 2024, but there are many more details to work out.
The existing Dome ramps are important to Superdome fire evacuation plans. Officials say they will be replaced by emergency stairwells in some cases.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office says it is already having initial talks on the removal of the ramps and will have to sign off on any design changes to make sure they’re up to the state fire code.