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08 February 2012

New Orleans Rejects Theme Park Option for Redevelopment of Closed Six Flags Site - Nick Winslow comments

New Orleans East Redevelopment Site, courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers
"A park that should never have been built in the first place" -- See commentary from Nick Winslow following this article

New Orleans, LA, USA (February 8, 2012) -- On Monday, a special committee for the City of New Orleans rejected a plan by RCS Entertainment to redevelop the former Six Flags New Orleans/Jazzland site into a new theme park.  The location has been closed since Hurricane Katrina.  

According to their website, Michael Sidener, CEO of RCS Entertainment, based in Katy, TX, is a former manager at Six Flags Astroworld.  The company's website also states that it is developing a 2500 acre theme park resort for the Houston market.

The remaining finalist for redevelopment of the site is the partnership of Provident Realty Developers and DAG Development, who plan to build an outlet mall at the location.

Following the Jan 6, 2012 public hearing where submissions were presented by both finalists, New Orleans City Business stated in an editorial

"RCS Entertainment proposes opening another theme park at the site and claims to be putting in place a similar deal near Houston. CEO Michael Sidener said he couldn’t provide the exact location for fear of elevating nearby property values. The project is stalled because the owner of the land is going through bankruptcy proceedings, he said.

"Joseph Mori, the financier behind RCS Entertainment, claims to have $600 million from foreign banks ready to back the project but said he couldn’t provide documentation of the guarantees because of contractual restrictions.

"Mori, who was convicted of misdemeanor insurance fraud in 2008, says he has backed hospitals in Colorado and Virginia. When asked about who will own them, he didn’t have an answer.

"Panel members were also skeptical when RCS cited “good” pre-Katrina attendance at Six Flags as their motivation to bring an amusement park back to the site. It was well known before the storm that business had not reached a level for the city to recoup its original investment in Jazzland, which opened in 2000."


Read the rest of the business editorial HERE 


Commentary from Nick Winslow, a leading industry consultant in recreational facilities, services, contracting and feasibility. Winslow was involved for a brief stint as consultant on the first iteration of the park, Jazzland.

“This is not a very great loss – it's a park that should never have been built in the first place, especially not the way it was built, seeking a market that was not really available to this location. I don't think anybody is going to cry very hard about what happened here except the people who have to pick up the debts.

“New Orleans is not a great location for a major theme park, and this one had a very complex financial structure involving city money that made the deal possible but also made it very, very difficult. New Orleans is suitable for a smaller, regional park - which is what they had before with Pontchartrain Beach - but the developers wanted more. Too much money was spent on the park and the numbers didn't work at that scale. When it failed and Six Flags picked it up, they probably ran it as well as they could, but it was a pretty marginal operation. Katrina was the coup de gras.

“After the closure, I didn't think it would ever become a theme park again. The news that the final bidder is an outlet mall shouldn't be a real surprise to anybody. New Orleans has come back as a city and a visitor destination, but people don't go there to visit theme parks. Southern Louisiana is a magic place of culture, food, music – a wonderful cultural experience. People go down there for 2, 3, 4 days; there's a huge meeting and convention business. Striving to keep visitors in the French Quarter and the Garden District supports the local economy; urging them to visit a theme park doesn't support the city all that much.

"New Orleans is what it is: there's no other city like it in America. I love it, but the last thing in the world I'm thinking about when I'm there is, 'Boy, do I want to get on a roller coaster'.

“Can a theme park bring a city back? It depends on the location. Galveston, for instance has been through the wringer, and the Moody Gardens improvements there plus the new pier project that has been announced are probably a plus. But first, all the economic metrics that drive a park have to be there to justify the investment – and the investment these days to build a new theme park is huge. It is harder and harder to justify public money for theme parks - likewise for stadiums and arenas. Regions are having to prioritize. Here in California they just folded up all the redevelopment agencies in the state. This downturn is going to have many financial implications for new recreation projects.

“All the same, in this industry we are seeing a resurgence. Money is still tight, but we're seeing some front-end work and what looks like real financing for some pretty ambitious projects around the globe - not just in China but also in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Turkey.”

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