JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Superdome media relations director Bill Curl walked down one of the massive corridors inside the Louisiana Superdome yesterday in New Orleans.
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NEW ORLEANS » Bill Curl has seen it all. Originally from Ohio, he's been the cordial director of media relations for 31 years for the Louisiana Superdome, the most recognizable landmark outside of downtown in this still-recovering Gulf Coast city.
Curl was there when the domed stadium was at its best as one of the largest structures of its kind, host of six Super Bowls, four NCAA basketball Final Fours, plus a world record for attendance at an indoor concert when 87,500 fans saw the Rolling Stones here in 1981.
He's also seen the iconic venue at its worst, storm-torn and a broken refuge for around 30,000 displaced people during Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.
He was there for all of the emotion when once-weary residents and a national television audience rejoiced in the reopening of the Superdome a little more than a year later when the Saints played the Atlanta Falcons on a National Football League Monday Night Football game.
"The people of New Orleans have taken ownership of this building," Curl said, "much like Fenway Park in Boston or the 'frozen tundra' of Lambeau Field in Green Bay."
The Superdome is experiencing a rebirth. It's hosting the second of three consecutive year-ending postseason college bowl games, a showcase venue for a University of Hawaii football team on New Year's Day.
"The Superdome has a great history and is a legendary building," Curl said, "and the appearance of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl already adds to that legend. Plus the team has the opportunity to be a real legend itself by winning the game. I've been hearing from football fans and experts that this could be the most exciting bowl game to watch. ...
"We should get a terrific TV audience with most of them pulling for Hawaii. More than just being the underdog, the Hawaii team's got imagination. They're the most exciting team to watch, and they're playing a Georgia team that played strong towards the end, so it should be a terrific matchup," he said.
Curl also was buoyed by the tremendous response of Hawaii fans of following their team all the way to New Orleans. "Our initial apprehension lasted all of two days. And it's not just the demand for tickets, but we know the people are coming also to have a good time. Like the people of New Orleans know how to party, the people of Hawaii are the same."
Looking at the Louisiana Superdome now, one would be hard pressed to find any remnant of the terrible damage the building suffered during and after Hurricane Katrina. The interior shows off $59 million in upgrades that include the stadium's box suites and club lounges, plus new scoreboards and flat-screen video monitors, new concession stands and a new sound system. And the design does not forget its and the city's history, with large archival prints surrounding the concourse, and a solemn photo exhibit documenting the human tragedy and the heroic acts of kindness and reconstruction.
"We did some major repair work when we were shut down, and it was an enormous challenge," Curl said. Thanks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $15 million from the NFL just a month after the storm, "the good old Superdome is now the good new Superdome," he said.
There's still another phase of renovation needed to complete the dome's reconstruction. Curl figures it will be an 18-month job that will start in the summer and carry through the 2008 football season. It includes the complete replacement of the building's outer aluminum skin; large, top-to-bottom scenic windows in the club rooms; and new escalators.
This weekend, colored lights once again illuminate the Superdome's facade, beckoning people to enjoy its electric atmosphere.