The financial picture seems all the bleaker when one realizes that the Houston Astrodome, built six years ago, has only gradually increased the number of days it is used to 145 and then only because of a baseball team—an asset that New Orleans lacks. Undaunted, Dixon cites studies showing that the Superdome would after a few years of modest deficits start generating profits that would mount to $60 million over 30 years. "We said in 1966 that this thing would be self-supporting, no matter what the cost," insists Dixon. "Well, that's as true today as it was then."
Dixon's projections assume that the Superdome will wind up with Tulane and the Saints plus, at the very least, a big-league baseball franchise shared with another city. They also count on revenues from the stadium's 5,000-car garage and from commercials Dixon expects to sell on those giant TV screens. He plans, moreover, something that few, if any, sports facilities have dared impose on their captive audiences: pay toilets. With the price pegged at a dime, twice as much as a phone call, one Dixon-hired research firm went out and studied the market and then concluded that this source would yield exactly $102,000 in annual income.
Even forces friendly to the stadium have accused Dixon of occasionally overselling it, giving rise to speculation that in the interest of defusing the controversy, his job might be on the line. But nothing of the sort is likely to soothe such an ardent Superdome foe as Joseph Bernstein, a lawyer for HONEST, Inc., whose home on New Orleans' elegant St. Charles Avenue—a replica, complete with 40-foot columns, of Tara in Gone With the Wind—is only scarcely more modest than the building he is fighting.
The house is within walking distance of Tulane Stadium, and Bernstein, an alumnus, argues that it would destroy an important part of the university's tradition if the facility that hosts the annual Sugar Bowl were torn down, as domed-stadium supporters advocate. Beyond that, Bernstein sees the Superdome as a demogogic plot to divert a populace in need of better housing and jobs with circuses instead. "The stadium is a Tower of Babel that will destroy Louisiana," Bernstein gloomily predicted as he sipped a Jack Daniel's late one evening in his book-lined study. "It could be the last gasp of a decadent and dying civilization."
Should the stadium be built over such dire protests, not even Bernstein is likely to complain if it is called McKeithen Stadium, since he and other Superdome opponents regard it as the governor's monument to himself—the same thing everyone said about Huey Long and the high-rise state capitol. But it is illegal nowadays to name a public building in Louisiana for a living person, a prohibition enacted not long after an airport named for one of Huey Long's henchmen had to be rechristened when the fellow was indicted for income-tax evasion. Of course, a statue of McKeithen could always be erected, but even that became less likely when a $28,000 sculpture allowance was pared recently from the Superdome's budget. It was an economy move that few Louisianians seemed to notice.