Developers: New Orleans can revive flood-damaged theme park
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Developers want to bring life back to a former Six Flags theme park at the edge of New Orleans, a tourist attraction long rusting away into an overgrown and ghostly spot of abandoned and vandalized amusement rides.
In 2005, the Jazzland theme park, lying far out in eastern New Orleans, saw catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina. The amusement park was closed and has become abandoned since.
Today, located near Interstate 10 in a suburban area carved out of former swampland, the park is an eerie reminder of the last day it was open: Jazzland's old rides, including a roller coaster, signs and fun houses still stand.
On Tuesday, groups of developers asked the city for help in reviving the site — as a new Jazzland or a newly themed place called Festival Park. Developers also want to build big-box stores, hotels, resorts and water parks.
The Industrial Development Board, an economic development arm of the city and owner of the site, pledged Tuesday to do an appraisal of the property and consider offering it for sale to developers. The board also could consider going in as a partner in developing a new theme park.
This forlorn corner of New Orleans is among the last remaining rebuilding projects a decade after Katrina devastated the city, leaving 80 percent of it under water.
The future of the theme park is of major importance to residents of eastern New Orleans, a sprawling area of predominantly African-American and Vietnamese households. Many parts have seen slow progress since Katrina and are plagued by crime.
"We'd like it to come back into some kind of business, no matter what kind," said Edward Blouin, the president of a neighborhood group in Village de l'Est. "We're tired of the blight and the grass growing into our streets."
The abandoned theme park is also a drain on the city's resources.
On Tuesday, the Industrial Development Board said it was paying a private security firm $500 a day for round-the-clock security because of persistent vandalism and trespassing. The board's administrator said 23 people were arrested for trespassing recently.
Developers, though, see the site as having major potential.
On Tuesday, the board was presented with a plan spearheaded by Frank Mials Scurlock, an entrepreneur and member of a New Orleans family that created the "bounce house," an inflatable structure popular at children's parties. He made his presentation wearing a Willy Wonka-style purple top hat.
Scurlock described his idea — Festival Park — as "not only an amusement park ... a resort hotel, a water park, an international shopping center, Noah's ark, hospitality school, and a resource center and a back lot to support the motion-picture industry."
Another developer, Tonya Pope, offered to buy the 220 acres for $2.5 million. For the past eight years, she has spearheaded efforts to rebuild Jazzland and create a new retail district. The city's assessor has valued the property at $54 million.
Board members asked the developers for more details and financial commitments from investors.
Developing the site carries risk because of its location — far from the French Quarter, the city's central attraction, and close to the Gulf of Mexico and its hurricanes. Before Katrina, the theme park ran into financial troubles because of sagging attendance numbers.
But along with the rest of the city, the theme park now lies behind higher and stronger levees.