Jun 27, 2011 6:26 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An $85 million renovation of the Louisiana Superdome will be finished in time for the Essence Festival over the Fourth of July weekend, the head of the stadium's governing board says.
Construction crews are expected to be gone by June 29 - just five months after tearing down much of the stadium's lower bowl.
Workers have changed the configuration of the lower bowl, increasing football seating by 3,400, while widening the plaza concourse, building two bunker club lounges and adding additional concession stands.
Governing board chief Ron Forman calls the stadium one "that everyone in the state is going to be proud of." Forman told The Times-Picayune that $336 million in renovations since Katrina have eliminated the need to build a new stadium to keep the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
Crews also have torn down temporary stairs that led from the outside Champions Square to the stadium and have begun replacing them with permanent steps. In addition, the installation of express elevators that will transport coaches and media from the ground level of the stadium to the press box have been completed.
Doug Thornton, the senior vice president of SMG, the company that manages the Superdome and the adjacent New Orleans Arena on behalf of the state, said he is amazed with the transformation of the stadium, especially after seeing how badly the building was damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"It's hard to imagine that we are in a building that was so heavily damaged and was really left for dead. There were so many people that didn't think it would recover, and here we are. The Superdome has really been reinvented," Thornton said.