Officials: Dome likely OK for some Saints games in '06

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana Superdome officials said
Thursday that the stadium should be largely cleaned up from
Hurricane Katrina and ready for the New Orleans Saints to play at
least some of their games there in 2006.

However, the announcement came as San Antonio officials said
they were working Saints owner Tom Benson to keep the team in
Texas. The state must also respond to the team's assertions that
its state-owned practice facility has been rendered unusable by
damages caused by federal agencies in the weeks following the Aug.
29 storm.

The Superdome, severely damaged by high winds, should have a
temporary roof in place within 10 days, said Doug Thornton,
regional vice president for SMG, which manages the Superdome. An
environmental assessment of its interior -- damaged by rainfall
through holes in the roof and its use as a shelter for evacuees --
should be finished by Dec. 1, he said.

"We're working to make the Dome ready for the next season,"
Thornton said at a meeting of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition
District Commission, the state board that oversees the Superdome.

The Saints have drawn criticism recently with shake ups in
upper-level staff, as Benson apparently leans toward moving the
team from New Orleans to San Antonio.

On Monday, Benson fired Arnold Fielkow, the team's top business
executive since 2000 and an advocate for keeping the Saints in
Louisiana. Fielkow has said that stance led to his dismissal. On
Tuesday, Conrad Kowal, senior director of marketing and business
development, resigned.

The team also sent a letter to the Louisiana National Guard and
the stadium commission, saying their Jefferson Parish practice
facility, leased from the state for $1 per year, has been damaged
so badly by federal actions after the storm that the team cannot
return "for some time [if ever]."

"These actions have effectively terminated the Saints' lease
for the facility and have caused great and continuing damage to the
team," said the letter, signed by lawyers for the team.

Tim Coulon, head of the stadium commission and the state's
negotiator with the team, said Thursday that state officials
planned to inspect damage at the practice facility next week.

"If there's some damage to those buildings, we're going to
rectify that," Coulon said.

Asked it he thought the letter was Benson's first step toward
leaving New Orleans, Coulon said he hoped not.

"I don't want to speculate, because I haven't heard from him,"
Coulon said. "But it's not too late [for Benson] to step up to the
plate and be the good citizen."

Under the terms of the state's contract with the team, the
Saints could argue that the storm has made the stadium unusable,
move to another state and avoid paying an $81 million penalty,
Coulon said.

Coulon said the state would fight such a move, probably in court
or in arbitration.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she talked for some time with NFL
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Wednesday. She said he is committed
to working with Louisiana, but also suggested that the game at
LSU's Tiger Stadium on Oct. 30 "is not just a game but a very
symbolic event and we should encourage as many people as possible
to go."

She said she had not spoken to Benson.

"I'm planning to speak with him shortly," she said. "I needed
to speak with the commissioner first."

Asked about Mayor Ray Nagin's suggestion that if the team does
leave, the city should keep the name, she said, "I think it's

But Blanco said she didn't talk to Tagliabue about that. "Let's
just support the Saints. That's what I say."