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Gayle Benson lays out succession plan to keep Pelicans, NFL’s Saints in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints owner Gayle Benson’s succession plan for the NFL’s Saints and NBA’s Pelicans calls for the sale of the team to a buyer who intends to keep the clubs in New Orleans, the teams’ owner says.

Benson, the widow of late Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, outlined her succession plan after her death in joint interviews involving the Times-Picayune and WVUE-TV in New Orleans that were aired and released Wednesday night.

It calls for Dennis Lauscha, the president of both teams, to oversee the sale of the clubs and use proceeds to set up a multi-billion dollar charitable foundation to benefit the New Orleans area.

“I can’t take it with me,” said the 74-year-old Benson, who has no heirs. “God gives us gifts, and this is a gift. I am a steward for this (organization). And we help other people with it. My wish is to scatter all the good and gifts that God and Tom have given me to this city and community.”

She became the principal owner of the Saints and Pelicans in 2018 after Tom Benson died. Before his death, Benson disowned his daughter, Renee and her two children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, who previously had been in line to inherit control of the two major professional clubs.

The estranged heirs sued in a failed effort to regain control of the Benson pro sports and auto dealership empire in Louisiana, but they could sue again when the succession plan is set to go into effect.

The Gayle and Tom Benson Charitable Foundation has donated more than $100 million since its founding in 2007, the organization stated.

“Giving makes me happy,” Gayle Benson said. “That’s where my pleasure comes from, in having enough money to give away and help the community.”

Tom Benson bought the Saints in 1985 and the New Orleans Hornets in 2012 before changing their name to the Pelicans.

The Saints lease of the state-owner Superdome runs through 2025 but is in the process of negotiating a 10-year extension with options for two more 10-year extensions through 2055.

Lauscha, who is from New Orleans, says Benson and her executive circle want to reach lease extensions binding both clubs to New Orleans.

“Our intent absolutely is to structure the deals in a way so that both teams can be here for a very long time,” Lauscha said. “We want to make sure if a new owner is coming into this market, not only do they see that this market is viable, but they also can see that financially it makes sense.”