A fresh start

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NEW ORLEANS - Teakwood cabinets, polished granite countertops, fresh carpeting and new furniture were installed in the Louisiana Superdome's private suites during the offseason. Four cavernous club lounges were refurbished in a style reminiscent of a contemporary boutique hotel lobby.

Nearly a year to the day since it reopened, and just over two years since it was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, the 31-year-old Superdome has never looked so good. Nor has it meant as much to a city that, with each nationally televised game, is recapturing its status as a prime big-event destination.

Again this season, the NFL was featuring the Saints' regular-season home opener on Monday Night Football. This year, however, it seemed as though more people were concerned with how the 0-2 Saints would play the 1-1 Tennessee Titans than the wisdom of spending nearly $200 million to restore a football stadium in a city where so much devastation remains.

"The ripple effect with the Superdome is important," said Mary Beth Romig, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "Groups of professionals come in for special events and see it's back in business. And when we have a game like tonight, (broadcasters) do cutaways for commercials and show different parts of the city, riverboats cruising on the Mississippi River or people having a good time in French Quarter.

"It sends the signal that people are here and living life."

A typical sold-out game puts 2,500 people to work. The reopening on Sept. 25, 2006 - in time for entire NFL and college football seasons, including the New Orleans Bowl and Sugar Bowl - provided a needed boost in business to area hotels, restaurants and clubs.

"There's no better atmosphere than Monday Night Football in New Orleans," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.

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