The New Orleans Saints will spend part of this year’s NFL training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
The team announced the West Virginia venue in a news release Thursday. The Saints will split time this summer between The Greenbrier and their facility in Metairie, La., where they have trained for the past five years. The Saints also held camp in Metairie from 2003 to 2005.
The team hasn’t released camp dates, although Greenbrier owner Jim Justice estimated the Saints would be at the resort in White Sulphur Springs from July 18 to Aug. 16. Admission for fans will be free.
“I have always been a proponent of mixing up training camp every few years, which I believe is a good strategy as we prepare for the season,” Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said in the release.
The Saints held training camp at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., from 2006 to 2008, and spent a week training in Oxnard, Calif., in 2009. Other Saints training camp sites have spanned the country from Vero Beach, Fla., to La Crosse, Wis.
In the release, Saints head coach Sean Payton said that The Greenbrier offers a more moderate summer climate. Payton also caddied for pro golfer Ryan Palmer at the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic at the resort last July.
Justice said Payton was a key to the Saints’ commitment.
“Sean just fell in love with The Greenbrier and fell in love with the people from West Virginia,” Justice said. “That led to a dialogue. The whole dialogue started with Sean. And then one thing led to another.”
Justice said two natural grass practice fields and one synthetic field are being built at the resort, in addition to a 55,000-square-foot building with kitchen and dining facilities, meeting rooms, weight and locker rooms, training and physical therapy accommodations. He estimated the price tag at $20 million to $25 million.
“It’s unbelievable,” Justice said. “I’m so happy from the standpoint of just what it does for our state. It’s jobs. It’s great tourism. It’s stuff we deserve. It will do great things for our state all over the place.”
The West Virginia Legislature recently passed up to $25 million in tax breaks over 10 years for a new medical institute at The Greenbrier, expected to open next year. Justice said the facility expects to draw top doctors for professional athletes, like Birmingham, Ala.-based surgeon Dr. James Andrews. He is renowned for his work especially on damaged knees. He also performs Tommy John surgery.
The tax breaks await the signature of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Earlier this week, Justice said the sports medical facility was one component of about $400 million in tourism projects he has in the works that are expected to create more than 1,000 new jobs. The initiatives are expected to qualify for state tourism tax credits.
Justice, who ranks 362nd on Forbes magazine’s list of the country’s wealthiest people, bought the Greenbrier out of bankruptcy in 2009 for $20.1 million. The resort in White Sulphur Springs dates back to 1778 and has hosted presidents and royalty.
It features a hotel, casino, spa, dozens of amenities and a once-secret underground bunker built for Congress in case of nuclear attack during the Cold War.