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Superdome, NFL team shell out for new turf

NEW ORLEANS -- Football fans will see a new field in the
Louisiana Superdome after this weekend's Tulane and Saints games.

The Superdome commission voted unanimously Thursday to split the
$400,000 cost with the Saints for the latest type of artificial
turf for the rest of this season and next season.

The field will be installed at a substantial discount by SRI
Sports of Leander, Texas, the maker of the dome's original and
current Astroturf field. The new surface is called Astroplay and
can be seen at numerous sites, from the Buffalo Bills home stadium
to the practice field on the Tulane University campus.

"It looks great because it shows we're moving into the modern
era," Superdome manager Doug Thornton said. "The field we have
now, by Astroturf standards ... there's nothing wrong with it, but
it's just an older technology. This represents the latest
technology in turf products and we owe it to the players to give
them the best possible surface, and players seem to like this
better."

The current field is basically a plastic carpet with padding
made of a foam and rubber compound. The new turf will have
synthetic grasslike fibers on a bed of ground rubber and sand. It
looks and feels much more like grass. It is softer and less
abrasive for players who may be tackled or fall on it.

Jim Savoca, executive vice president for sales at SRI, told the
commission installation would begin next week and be done well
before the Saints host the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 16.

The timing also means the Bayou Classic, the Sugar Bowl, the New
Orleans Bowl, high school championships and one Tulane home game
will be played on the new surface. The Sugar Bowl doubles as the
national college football championship game this season.

Savoca said installing Astroplay usually costs from $500,000 to
$700,000. The field in the dome will be installed and removed twice
for $400,000. It will be taken out after this season to allow conventions and Mardi Gras events to be held on the dome's original cement floor, then it will be reinstalled for the 2004 football season in August.

"It's a significant discount for the exposure and for the
long-term solution we're looking for," Savoca said.

For the 2005 season and beyond, Superdome managers want
Astroplay or a similar surface that can be easily installed or
removed in trays or covered in a way that does not unduly compact
the field when other events are held in the stadium, Thornton said.

SRI had a prototype tray of Astroplay at Thursday's meeting. But
Thornton said it would cost millions to install now.

The old foam-based field to be used once more this weekend can
be rolled off in 5-yard-wide strips on a forklift, which is how
the end zones are changed in and out for Tulane and Saints games.
The new field will have to remain down in its entirety for the rest
of the season, so changing the end zone or midfield designs
requires paint removal and repainting, which is somewhat more labor
intensive and takes longer, Thornton said.

It was not immediately clear whether the end zones would be
repainted from Saints to Tulane colors for the lone Green Wave game
to be played on the new field, Thornton said.

Meanwhile, Superdome managers also have reached an agreement to
repaint the Superdome roof, which came out splotchy the last time
it was painted in 2001.

Firestone, which installed the rubberized roof coating, wants to
use the dome in commercials and wants it to look good, said
Superdome spokesman Bill Curl. So Firestone made a deal that will
provide however much paint it takes for a clean finish as long as
the Superdome pays the labor costs to pressure wash and repaint,
which will run just under $100,000.

The repainting should be done before the Sugar Bowl, Curl said.