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Gayle Benson and succession plan aim to keep Pelicans in New Orleans forever

A strong commitment exists, yet plenty of work remains

NBA: Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of the two years that Hurricane Katrina displaced the team to Oklahoma City, the Pelicans franchise has called New Orleans home since the 2002-03 season. Gayle Benson and a succession plan aim to keep that as the status quo for much, much longer.

According to “The Succession,” a wonderful multi-part series by the Times Picayune, Benson wholly desires for the Pelicans and Saints to never leave New Orleans.

Gayle Benson said that despite the potential interest, her husband’s wishes were for {the Saints} to remain in New Orleans.

“When Tom bought this team, he didn’t have a lot of money,” she said. “Everything that he had, had to be given to keep the team. He worked really hard to get the Pelicans here. He sacrificed a lot. I want to make sure that we keep the teams here. I want them to stay in New Orleans forever.”

In the event of Mrs. Benson’s death, both professional teams are to be sold and the proceeds would be distributed to local charities; however, there exists an important goal: the Saints and Pelicans are to remain in New Orleans after the fact.

Thanks to a massive $450 million renovation project and a new leasing agreement expected to be finalized on the horizon, the Saints should call the Caesars Superdome home for a very long time. On the Pelicans side, things are a bit murkier.

The Smoothie King Center is not even half as old as the Superdome, but its badly outdated and renovations may not be an ideal path. It is one of the smallest arenas in the NBA, possessing the fewest lower-bowl seats around, and the existing architecture makes necessary upgrades problematic. A different address, thus, may be the answer, and officials have examined other locations.

Officials have explored a handful of potential sites for a new arena, including a spot along Loyola Avenue where a U.S. post office sits; the tract of land just north of the Smoothie King Center near the Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Duncan Plaza (should City Hall relocate); and a plot of land across from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Tchoupitoulas Street that houses a parking lot.

In order to attract a buyer that would be intensely committed in keeping the Pelicans in New Orleans, a new arena would likely be better than renovating the Smoothie King Center. So too should the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA) as it’s expected an enhanced revenue-sharing model benefitting small-market teams will be included.

The Pelicans current lease expires in 2024, but one of the primary goals is to sign a new one along with the Saints, tying both teams to the region for a long time. In addition, compiling a plan sometime in the next five years to make the NBA not only more viable in New Orleans but really attractive to potential investors.

A lot of work remains — and it’s expected to begin in greater earnest once the renovations on the Superdome are completed, but the message from Gayle Benson and Dennis Lauscha, the President of the Saints and Pelicans who is also entrusted with executing the succession plan, is clear as a bell today.

“There’s absolutely no way — not on my watch, not on Mrs. Benson’s watch,” said Lauscha. “I was born and raised in New Orleans. It tore my heart out when the Jazz left. The last thing I want is for either of these teams to leave New Orleans. It’s not going to happen.”

Lauscha said he takes calls monthly from interested buyers. At Benson’s direction, he said, he has turned down 10-figure offers.

“There is no way, as long as I’m going to be alive, that I would sell the Pelicans,” Gayle Benson added.

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