NEW ORLEANS -- Dave Dixon, the visionary New Orleans businessman whose determination and drive brought the city the New Orleans Saints and landmark Louisiana Superdome, died Sunday at the age of 87.
Mr. Dixon had been in failing health in recent weeks and died Sunday morning at home, according to his son Frank Dixon.
Mr. Dixon, a businessman, art and antiques dealer and entrepreneur, is widely recognized as the father of professional football in New Orleans, helping bring the city its NFL franchise on November 1, 1966.
He chronicled the birth of the team in a recent book, The Saints, the Superdome and the Scandal, which spotlighted the political hurdles which Dixon had to navigate at the time to bring the team to fruition.
An even greater contribution to the city, the Louisiana Superdome, came from the same fertile mind. Dixon worked with then-Louisiana Gov. John McKeithen, to bring the domed stadium to reality in the late 1960s, after the team spent many years playing its home games in Tulane Stadium.
Though its size and ballooning budget were not easy to sell the rest of the state on, the Superdome, which opened August 3, 1975, has gone on to host six Super Bowls, four Final Fours, the 1988 Republican National Convention and even the visit of Pope John Paul II to New Orleans in 1987.
"It's a wonderful building. Still is. I don't know any place in the NFL as good as this," Dixon said in a 2006 interview to mark the reopening of the building after Hurricane Katrina. "I'm a little biased, of course, but biased with reason," he joked.
But it was a love for football which his son said really started it all.
“Just like a lot of people in Louisiana, he loved football and wanted there to be a pro football team in New Orleans,” his son said Sunday, adding that his father reveled in the team’s world championship this past season, attending nearly all of their home games, except for the NFC Championship.
“I guarantee you he and Buddy D. are up in heaven getting their spots and waiting for the Saints season to start,” his son said.
Dixon was also instrumental in launching the United States Football League, which has since gone out of business, and the World Championship Tennis program.
But while his steady stream of sports and business-related ideas took him to a national stage, Dixon's love for his hometown was palpable.
"I have been enormously proud of the Superdome. I've loved the Saints, but most of all I really am a New Orleanian. I love this city, always have," Dixon said in 2006.
Saints Owner Tom Benson offered his condolences through a statement issued by the team.
"Today's loss is a sad day for all of New Orleans. Mr. Dixon was a distinguished civic leader with a unique vision and he was widely admired around our region as a leader who was dedicated to seeing professional football played in New Orleans and the development of the Louisiana Superdome."
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose father Moon Landrieu worked closely with Dixon as mayor, city councilman and chairman of the Superdome Commission, called Dixon a visionary.
“Mr. Dixon's work to bring professional football to New Orleans and to envision and make the idea of the Superdome a reality transformed this city and the state of Louisiana forever,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. “He was truly a man ahead of his time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Dixon is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Mary Shea Dixon, their three sons – Frank, Shea and Stuart Dixon -- and four grandchildren.
Dixon's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at the Holy Name of Jesus Church on St. Charles Avenue. Visitation is at 10 a.m., the Mass follows at 12:30 p.m. The burial will be at Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery.