Despite continual offers, Benson says ‘there is no way’ Pelicans will be sold
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Gayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, says there is no way the basketball franchise will be sold as long as she is alive. The comments come in an exclusive interview with FOX 8′s Lee Zurik and Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
When asked about a recent report that suggested the Pelicans were the most likely NBA franchise to be put up for sale, Benson said, “Absolutely not.”
“There is no way the Saints or Pelicans are ever going to be sold until I close my eyes permanently,” Benson said. “Because we get calls, almost daily, people wanting to buy the Saints and or the Pelicans. And I mean, it’s almost laughable. There is no way. As long as I’m going to be alive that I would sell the Pelicans.
She said the answer to why is simple, because of the work of her late husband, Tom, to bring the team to New Orleans.
“Tom worked very hard to get the Pelicans here, and worked very hard to have it become a championship team, which, of course, we haven’t been successful in that. But I feel like one day we will be,” Benson said.
“Why would I sell it? I love coming here every day to work. This is my passion to be here at the office working with these guys. I don’t have any reason to sell everything and sit at home. That’s not what I want to do in life.”
Benson said she has worked her whole life including having a design business for thirty years.
Dennis Lauscha, president of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, said the calls don’t just come in for the Pelicans. Interested buyers also call for the Saints, too. Lauscha says he listens, but he ends every call the same way, saying they are not interested.
“You know, I continuously say look, I appreciate the phone call, but we’re not selling,” Lauscha said. “Now, we’ve been offered some tremendous amounts of money for those teams. And all of them have basically been with the thought of, you know, moving to a bigger market and she will absolutely not have any of that. She won’t even entertain it.”
Lauscha said the offers have been multi-billion dollar offers for both teams.
“I probably get a phone call once a month for the basketball team,” Lauscha said.
Lauscha, the team president, will pick the next owner of both teams as the executor of Gayle Benson’s estate. The plan is to set both organizations up so they essentially cannot relocate.
“I certainly don’t want to say I’m keeping a Rolodex of people I’ve called but certainly I keep that information for the future,” Lauscha said.
FUTURE OF THE ARENA
In order to ensure a long-term future for the Pelicans, the team will likely need a new or renovated arena to lock up a long-term deal.
“We’re gonna have to find a long-term solution and you know, we’re talking about different ideas now and we’ll see where we go,” he said.
Lauscha said whether to renovate or build a new stadium is a difficult question to answer.
“We’ve done two or three different renovation, options and rent and run those scenarios [and it’s] still not out of the picture. The beauty of the Superdome is that you know we all you’ve heard this before is how much space you have under the roof and how much space you have to work with. Not so much with the arena, but doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” he said.
Lauscha said when it comes to both options, everything is on the table. But he knows whatever option there is, there needs to be a winning team to occupy that arena.
“You owe it to this market to put a winner on a court. We haven’t done that yet. Really this franchise has not done that. I mean, we’ve had some starts and stops over the entire course since the Hornets got here,” Lauscha said. “But we have not had a sustained winner like we’ve had with the New Orleans Saints.”
“I think before you can make any requests, you know, or make any long-term decisions about this franchise, you owe it to put a winning product on the court.”
The likeliest scenarios would be to do a significant renovation to the existing arena or build a new one near the riverfront on property currently owned by the New Orleans Convention Center.
“Let’s just say that there aren’t very many places in New Orleans that could accommodate an arena,” Doug Thronton, executive vice president of ASM Global, said. His company runs operations at both the Superdome and arena.
“[The location near the convention center] is one of the few places I think in the city in the core of the city that might be available,” he said. “It’s the site, no secret, that we looked at years ago for a new stadium. Back in 2004, we actually modeled that location and we had an outdoor stadium with no roof on that site. Now, there’s some challenges, but there’s also some advantages.”
Thornton said he is unaware of other spots that would be as good as the one near the Convention Center, but a solution for the Pelicans arena needs to be reached within the next five years.
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