5) Saints Release 2009 Schedule
Die-hard football fans no doubt began circling key dates on their fall calendars with the release last week of the New Orleans Saints’ 2009 season schedule. The Saints open their season on Sept. 13 with a home game against Detroit, then hit the road for games in Philadelphia and Buffalo. The season includes three home games scheduled for primetime broadcast: against Atlanta and New England on Monday night games and against Dallas on a Saturday night game. New Orleans finished 2008 with an 8-8 record. For details, see www.neworleanssaints.com.

4) Construction Begins at Cancer Center
The oft-touted idea of a downtown medical corridor in New Orleans took another step toward reality last week with the start of construction on a cancer research center at the corner of Claiborne and Tulane avenues. The center has been on the drawing board for years, and its site was long ago cleared and prepped for construction. The center will be operated by Louisiana State, Tulane and Xavier universities working together in a consortium to attract more research grant funding and talent. The state is funding the construction of the center, which once open will draw operating revenue from a share of a tax on cigarettes in Louisiana.

3) Report Says Local Population Up But Job Growth Slowing
While the New Orleans area has fared much better than most American communities during the national economic downturn, a new study from the University of New Orleans suggests the area is beginning to see its own declines. In its Metropolitan Report, UNO’s Division of Business and Economic Research documents a slowdown in job growth during the fourth quarter of 2008 and predicts the area’s job growth for 2009 will be flat. But there was good news in the report as well. The February unemployment rate in the New Orleans area was 5.3 percent, compared with 8.1 percent nationally. Further, the report found that the area’s population has reached 88 percent of its pre-Katrina level after a five percent increase last year brought the metro area’s headcount to 1.15 million people. UNO researchers pointed to construction as the "chief force" driving the New Orleans economy.

2) Saints Owner Eyes Office Tower by Dome
In a deal now being floated by state officials, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson could potentially buy the now-vacant Dominion Towers building next to the Superdome and lease portions of it to the state for government office use. The proposal comes as the Saints and the state are negotiating a new contract with Benson to keep the NFL team playing in the Dome. The deal could be used to reduce the amount of money the state pays the team in incentives while also getting the Katrina-damaged, 26-story downtown building back into commerce. Earlier plans to move city offices into the tower and to develop a landmark jazz park in the area have come to nothing.

1) Coastal Restoration Report Found Lacking
A study of options to protect Louisiana’s coastal communities from the storm surges of large hurricanes was released by the Army Corps of Engineers, but it was quickly criticized by state officials and others for failing to detail construction projects that can get underway immediately. Following the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress ordered the Corps to produce plans that could be put into action quickly in New Orleans and surrounding areas. The Corps has invested three years and spent $23 million on its Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Study, and critics say it hasn’t lived up to the Congressional mandate for action, but rather recommends further studies. 

Ian McNulty is a freelance writer in New Orleans and contributing writer for New Orleans Magazine. Reach him at imcnulty@cox.net.