Gov. Floats Stadium Plan, Construction Jobs on Decline

Sat August 07, 2004 - West Edition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Gov. Kathleen Blanco has asked Louisiana Superdome and city convention officials to explore the idea of building a new football stadium along with a planned expansion of the New Orleans convention center.

Blanco said she continues to favor renovation of the dome as “the best alternative” the state can provide the New Orleans Saints.

However, Blanco said she had received information that “warrants consideration regarding a potential convention center stadium.”

The planned expansion of the city’s already massive convention center and a renovated Superdome or new football stadium “are significant capital projects that will require major investments of taxpayer dollars,” Blanco said.

“It is in both the state’s and the New Orleans area’s interest for us to review whether there are ways to get more bang for the taxpayers’ buck by combining these projects in some way,” she said.

Three years ago, Saints owner Tom Benson asked the state to build a new $450 million stadium. He instead agreed to a state proposal that keeps the NFL team in the Superdome and guarantees the Saints $186 million.

Blanco is interested in combining the convention center and stadium project because land parcels for the convention center have been assembled and are owned by the state, Superdome and convention officials said.

“This is a bold move on the part of the governor,” Superdome Commission Chairman Tim Coulon said.

But combining the projects would face numerous obstacles, said Ralph Brennan, chairman of the convention center’s board.

“The real issue is where we come up with the money. It’s going to be a real challenge,” Brennan said.

The $450 million price tag for the convention center expansion is expected to rise because of increased construction and litigation costs.

Constructing both on the same 37-acre site could also be a tight fit. The superdome building is on 10 acres and the entire dome site is 52 acres.

The convention center expansion area, along the Mississippi River, is already congested with traffic from a new Port of New Orleans container terminal, cruise ship passengers, conventioneers, the Warehouse District neighborhood, new apartments and a Super Wal-Mart planned to open this fall.

State Loses Jobs

As Louisiana failed to sustain much employment growth over the past year, only three of the state’s seven metropolitan areas showed overall gains, while the New Orleans region had 10,300 fewer non-farm jobs in June than in June 2003.

Statewide, there were 1,000 more non-farm jobs in June than in June 2003, the labor department said. But the growth was centered entirely in the service area of the economy, while petroleum, construction and manufacturing all dropped.

Overall, manufacturing was down by 1,600 jobs while construction dropped 4,000 jobs. The service-providing sector was fueled by gains of 4,100 jobs in retail trade, 4,700 in educational and health services and 2,100 in the hospitality industry.

Overall government employment was flat over the past 12 months, although the labor department said there were 1,800 more state employees than a year ago. The federal government shed 500 jobs, while local governments reported a drop of 1,300 workers.

The state’s unemployment rate was 5.9 percent in June, compared with 6.1 percent in May and 6.9 percent in June 2003. The jobless rate is affected by a number of variables, including the number of people actively seeking work.

In June, there were 18,089 initial and renewed claims for unemployment insurance, compared with 15,204 in May and 17,845 in June 2003. In June, 3,571 recipients exhausted their benefits, compared with 2,819 in May and 3,728 in June 2003.