As host of four Final Fours and a record six Super Bowls, the Louisiana Superdome is no stranger to the spotlight. But when Hurricane Katrina chased evacuees inside last August, the world watched as 145 mph winds peeled the stadium like an orange. That destruction became a symbol of the city's broader failures. Now, one year and $185 million later, the 31-year-old stadium is almost ready for the Saints' home opener on Monday Night Football (Sept. 25, vs. Falcons). And those behind the rebuilding hope the Dome will soon become a symbol of recovery.
More than 3.8 million gallons of water and 4,000 tons of debris wound up in the Dome post-Katrina and experts predicted it would take 14 months for the facility to reopen. But after a December visit from then-NFL commish Paul Tagliabue, officials pledged to get the place ready by September. Funding came from several sources, including $121 million from FEMA and $20 million from the NFL. Owner Tom Benson's share? Zilch. In exchange for its millions, the NFL got the city to
reduce -- by up to $20 million -- the penalty the team will owe if it leaves town before its lease
expires in 2010. Such is life in the Big Easy.
Fixing the 9.7-acre roof was the toughest -- and, at $32 million, the costliest -- part of the job. Katrina had scalped the rubber membrane that
covered the metal dome. To replace it, a 125-man crew built a minivillage on the roof and spent five months there. Their work camp, 27 stories off the ground, had its own weather station and portable johns. "You just shut the door and hope there are no wind gusts while you're in there," says project manager Tom Keller, whose hard hat will be
displayed in the Hall of Fame as part of a future exhibit on the renovation.