TOPICS > Nation

New Orleans Celebrates Reopening of Superdome

September 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Little more than a year ago, the Superdome was a singular metaphor for the misery that consumed post-Katrina New Orleans. The shelter of last resort housed 30,000 evacuees, but its roof leaked, its electricity and plumbing failed, and it was left a wreck.

Tonight, the Louisiana Superdome is back in business after a $184-million-dollar renovation; the city’s beloved New Orleans Saints football team returns home. Chris Rose, a columnist at the Times-Picayune, says this is about a lot more than football. He joins us now from the Superdome.
Hi, Chris.

CHRIS ROSE, New Orleans Times-Picayune: Hello, Gwen. Please pardon the business casual outfit today, but it was decreed by the powers that be that we’re supposed to dress in black and gold, so I’m doing my best.

GWEN IFILL: You’re doing your best. Well, you know, when the saints come marching in tonight at the Superdome, how will they be received?

CHRIS ROSE: Well, the Saints will be received by a bunch of crazy fans who have been partying all weekend. It’s almost like Mardi Gras meets the Super Bowl down here.
I suspect it will probably be one of the emotional capstones of what’s happened since this all began last August. You know, we’ve had big events. We had Mardi Gras; we had Jazzfest, many things that have brought us together. But nothing has ever put 67,000 people in one room to sort of celebrate who we are, and our hopeful recovery, and bring in the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and the Saints, and all that stuff. It’s going to be a night like no other here, I can tell you that.

GWEN IFILL: How much of this is about the game? And how much of this is about the symbolism of revival, I guess?

CHRIS ROSE: Well, a little bit’s about the game. We’re 2-0. Of course, everyone wants to win, and that would be the nice cap if that happens, if we win. But obviously what this is about, this building is such a symbol for what happened here, our sort of national and local shame.

So to have it return for the purposes for which it was built is very reassuring, very comforting. I know a lot of people elsewhere are probably thinking the money could have been used somewhere else to build houses for folks, but you have to realize what drives the economy here.

The two buildings that had to be put online before any others, after Emeril’s restaurant, of course, would be the Superdome and the Convention Center. They drive our economy.

Football games isn’t the only thing that happens in this building. Although I think they’ve started with a football game for the symbolic purposes, I think having a boat show or a gun show or a home show probably would have been a sort of irony that we didn’t want to project tonight.


GWEN IFILL: Well, this turns out, I guess I read, to be the biggest re-roofing project ever in history, at least in the United States. So what does this mean? Did anybody really expect for this Superdome ever to reopen again after the way it was left?

CHRIS ROSE: I don't think so. I think, in the early days, I guess they thought we were going to have to tear this thing down. And I think it could be said that the NFL and Saints ownership actually wanted to tear this thing down for a long time and get a new stadium.

We've resisted it. This odd building that looks more like a nuclear reactor than a football stadium has somehow wound its way around our hearts. But it was a heck of a roofing job, and it's dry so far.

GWEN IFILL: And so far it seems to be holding. What about the parts of New Orleans that we still read and see, the huge swaths of the city which have not come back?

CHRIS ROSE: Well, they're there, and they're huge, there's no question about it. You know, it's kind of an odd mixed message that we have to send out here.

Tonight, the images that go out in the football game are going to have all the cliches, the saxophone player in Jackson Square, the oyster shuckers, the beignets, the drinking on Bourbon Street, and that's all there. That's very real. It's still happening.

The old part of the city is here and functioning. There is a reason it's the old part and it's functioning, because it's on high ground. Now, what happened is about 75 percent of this city took two feet or more -- a lot more -- for about three weeks out there. So that's what we're still working on.

It's coming on painfully, excruciatingly slow. It's a brutal process, and it's made life very difficult here. And I think that's one reason that the celebration is amped up here. It could be argued that we haven't had a heck of a lot to party about or a heck of a lot to cheer about in the last year.

But we're very resilient, and celebratory, and community-oriented folks, so I think that's what's got a lot to do with tonight. It's completely exaggerated. It's out of control. I suppose most of America is wondering, "What the hell are they doing in New Orleans?" But they've been asking that question for 50 years, so...


GWEN IFILL: If 80 percent of the city is still on affected, and you're a tourist, and you come to New Orleans, is it possible to go to the Superdome, to go to the Convention Center, to basically go to the old tourist haunts and never see that other side of the city?

CHRIS ROSE: It is. The truth is, you could come and spend a week here and see very few manifestations of the storm and the damage, because the places that tourists usually go -- the Convention Center is now open for conventions; the dome is fixed, the French Quarter, the Garden District, uptown, the music clubs, the restaurants, almost without exception, the Audubon Zoo.

There's a few places, a few local hideaways that were out in neighborhoods that are either inaccessible or not open yet, but for the most part the old part of the city that tourists identify with is here and functioning. The rest of it happens quietly behind the scenes while we slowly and painfully put our lives back together.

GWEN IFILL: So, Chris, in the end, after all is said and done tonight after this game is over, does it matter who wins the game?

CHRIS ROSE: Does it matter who wins the game? Now, therein really is the great philosophical question about this event. No, you know, I'll give you the cliche: No matter what happens on the field tonight, New Orleans wins big.

It's going to send a huge message out, the one we've been trying to get out forever -- and I'd love to speak to the power of this program and all the others -- but "Monday Night Football," baby. We're going to reach a lot of homes tonight. And that's what we need to get out.

So the city wins either way. Now, my prediction for the game, like I said, the city wins either way.

GWEN IFILL: I think I'll take that as your prediction. Chris Rose, thanks a lot for joining us again.