NEW ORLEANS -- In under two months, at the end of the Saints' football season, the Louisiana Superdome will be shut down.
The 'Dome is scheduled to undergo its biggest renovation in decades, and that means some big changes for New Orleans events, including Mardi Gras.
“We have to be back open in July of 2011 to accommodate Essence Music festival,” said Doug Thornton, vice president of SMG, the company that manages the Superdome.
The 'Dome is scheduled to begin another phase of major renovations, including tearing out the entire lower bowl or plaza section and adding 3,100 new seats.
“The concourses are gonna go from 18-feet wide to 68-feet wide at the widest point. So, that's gonna be a very dramatic change,” Thornton said.
The 'Dome renovations include the new Champion Square that sits where Lasalle Street used to be. In fact, Thornton said the tents will no longer be here, and many of the vendors will be moved inside where the food court used to be.
The 'Dome renovations are costing $85 million, and Champions Square is tacking on another $15 million.
The closure of the 'Dome is forcing the Endymion Extravaganza to move to the Morial Convention Center this year, something the krewe has done in the past.
“Zulu is in the Rivergate [Convention Center] on Friday night, Bacchus is in the Rivergate on Sunday night. We were there on Saturday and it's really hard to get three of these things done in 12 hours,” said Ed Muniz, captain and founder of Endymion.
The super krewe will return to the Superdome in 2012, but in 2013, New Orleans will host its first Super Bowl since the storm, and depending on the NFL schedule, it'll either put the game the week before, or the week after, Endymion.
“The Super Bowl will jump in where the first night typically is. That'll be on Sunday night and Endymion will be six nights later. There will be so much equipment in that building, that it will present a challenge for us to get all of that out of there,” Muniz said.
Both Muniz and the Superdome are vowing to make it work. The question is, what will happen long-term?
The NFL and its owners are still debating whether to add two additional regular season games to the season. It’s a decision that could push the Super Bowl, and the Saints' season, further into the spring.
“Endymion could be impacted in a negative way every four, five or six years if we have the Super Bowl, and certainly adding the two games to the back of the season certainly would impact us during the Mardi Gras period,” Thornton said.
He continued that it’s not a problem that's unique to New Orleans. Stadiums across the country are grappling with the possibility. It’s one the NFL and their owners will likely make at the end of this football season.
Muniz said one of the good things about the renovations for Endymion is that the Superdome is adding two "bunker suites" on the lower level. That will mean permanent bathrooms for Extravaganza-goers instead of the ball's normal port-a-potties.