Sunday, June 8, 2014

Designing A Theme Park With No Experience...Is It Possible?

By Keith Mahne

Today's article is a little bizarre but its a dream of mine for a long time. Before I give you the low down, I ask you...can someone that has no idea how to run or design a theme park get together a group of professionals and design one for a city in need? Continue after the page break before you answer that question...

You see, Six Flags New Orleans, an abandoned theme park in New Orleans, Louisiana, that has been closed since just before Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005 and is currently owned by the city of New Orleans, is in dire need of a redevelopment plan. Six Flags had previously owned the park since March 2002, but after assessing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the related exorbitant expenses of repairing the damage, sought to terminate their 75-year lease with the city, beginning in July 2006 and finally succeeding in September 2009. The park is located in Eastern New Orleans, in the Ninth Ward of the city, off Interstate 10. Despite various announced plans to redevelop the site, as of 2014, it is still an abandoned amusement park in extremely poor condition. Recently, on May 29, 2014 a plan was proposed to tear down the park and rebuild a new more modern amusement park in its place; whether the new park would be managed by Six Flags was not discussed. The site has become a well-known urban exploration destination.

To give you a little background, the park first opened under the name Jazzland in 2000, operated by Alfa Smartparks (later Odgen Entertainment and now known as Palace Entertainment but owned by a Spanish company called Parques Reunidos). Rides included the Mega Zeph, a wooden roller coaster track built on a steel frame to prevent termite infestation and withstand hurricane force winds. The Mega Zeph was inspired by the old Zephyr roller coaster at the closed Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park that was located next to Lake Pontchartrain by the University of New Orleans. The original intent was to rebuild the Zephyr but it was a smaller roller coaster so that idea was scrapped in favor of the current larger Mega Zeph. Other rides included a junior steel coaster called Rex's Rail Runner, a wild mouse steel coaster, and a common steel shuttle looping Vekoma boomerang rollercoaster called a Zydeco Scream (there are well over a dozen of these identical coasters in parks nationwide). The park had a Log Flume and a Splashwater falls ride called Spillway Splashout. In addition, the park had common amusement park spinning rides and a Carousel Merry Go-Round. The park was not profitable, as Alpha Smart Parks specialized in running water parks and smaller amusement arcade centers. In 2001, the lease was put up for sale and in March 2002, Six Flags purchased the lease, though the park's name did not change that year.

In early 2003, Six Flags upgraded the park and renamed it Six Flags New Orleans. The park added more shaded areas, as well as many new flat spinning rides, and re-branded the park to the Six Flags "it's playtime!" theme that included a dancing old man, Mr. Six.

They added a used inverted looping B & M coaster that was named Batman: The Ride (though different in design from the rest of the B & M Batman coasters) and another multiple looping coaster called The Jester brought from Six Flags Fiesta Texas. A water park which would be included in the admission (like Six Flags Parks such as Six Flags St. Louis and Six Flags America for example) was in the planning stages in early 2005 and going to be announced at the end of August. However, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, which put those plans along with the continued operations of the park in question. The last day the park operated was August 21, 2005. Weekday operations had ended a couple weeks before due to the fact schools start early in August in the New Orleans area and end in mid-May. The park was scheduled to open August 27 and August 28, as usual, but once Katrina was forecast late on Friday, August 26 to directly hit New Orleans, the weekend opening was canceled in order to prepare for the storm and begin evacuations.

The park grounds are located on a low-lying section of Eastern New Orleans, with a 6-foot earthen flood berm running along the perimeter, creating an artificial basin. As such, this area was badly flooded in August 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After the park's drainage pumps failed during the storm, the berm retained the combination of rainwater and sea water overflow from Lake Pontchartrain caused by Katrina's massive storm surge, submerging the entire park grounds in corrosive brackish floodwater to a depth of 4 to 7 feet for over a month. Due to the extensive water and wind damage received, the park was closed indefinitely with no plans to reopen.

Initial damage reports by Six Flags inspectors stated that the park buildings were 80% demolished, all of the flat rides (except for one which was being serviced off-site at the time of the storm) were effectively destroyed by long term salt-water immersion, and both the wooden track and steel superstructure of the Mega Zeph were likely damaged beyond repair. The only large ride to escape relatively unscathed was the Batman: The Ride roller-coaster, due to its elevated station platform and corrosion-resistant support structure.

In April 2008 Southern Star Amusement Inc. proposed to take over the site lease from the then-owner Six Flags, promising to expand the park to over 60 rides (more than double its pre-Katrina size), complete a water park that Six Flags had been planning, and add an RV park. Southern Star Amusement Inc. pledged to open the park as Legend City Adventure Park, with 60 rides in place, including a new water park by the summer of 2009 if the city approved the lease takeover, with the campground to follow. However, on September 27, 2008, Southern Star Amusement stated on their website that they would no longer be trying to revive Six Flags New Orleans. They did not comment on what situations influenced their decision, but it is speculated that the extensive recycling and removal of rides and current economic situation were key issues.

In 2011 the Paidia Company made a competing proposal to re-open the park as Jazzland, for the first time since 2002. There were scheduled plans for the park already made, including newly designed themes for the park, a water park, and a studio movie back-lot. The themes of the park included re-using some existing rides. "Sportsman's Paradise" would include the existing Jester coaster, but would be moved to another area of the park and re-painted. Ozarka Splash and Mega Zeph would be restored. Zydeco Scream was salvageable, but would have to be removed to make room for other plans. The Muskrat Scrambler coaster sustained too much damage from Hurricane Katrina and would have been removed. These plans were progressing for some time until the next proposed plan, the Jazzland Outlet Mall, was put forth to the city of New Orleans.

In August 2011, the city of New Orleans called for proposals for redevelopment ideas for the site. Eight entrepreneurs stepped forward to suggest turning the property into everything from a power plant, a theme park, or even an outlet mall. As of November 29, 2011, the city of New Orleans had chosen two of the proposed projects: an outlet mall and a green theme park. On March 6, 2012, the city of New Orleans gave the green light to build Jazzland Outlet Mall to Provident Reality Advisors and DAG Development. The proposal was for a 400,000 square feet upscale outlet mall and entertainment boardwalk on the former theme park site, costing $40 million for part of Phase One and using some of the existing rides from the theme park. Construction would have taken between three and four years to build. During the planned period of due diligence and pre-construction, in March 2013 the development plans were abruptly called off. The developer cited competition from the planned expansion of the nearby Riverwalk Marketplace to include an outlet mall, making the Jazzland Outlet Mall concept unviable.

Now, the city is back to square one with only a few movies using the property for filming.  During the summer of 2013, portions of the park were being filmed for the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes until mid-August. The park will also be used to film portions of the movie Jurassic World with shooting scheduled for this month.

So knowing all this I ask you again...can someone without any knowledge of how to run or design a theme park bring a group of professionals together to do a pro bono job until possible funding is acquired? I know the city is dyeing for something to be developed on the land. I also know that if done properly it would be successful as New Orleans' primary means of income is the tourism industry. New Orleans has been trying to present itself as a more family friendly destination and not just about Bourbon Street and partying. Bringing in a few big names in the industry would surely open the pocket books of the city and state as well as investors. Just like Walt and Herb Ryman did that weekend long ago, designing what Disneyland would be and look like for Roy to bring the bankers on Monday, my hope is it wouldn't be that difficult to get a Tim Delaney figure in, design something extravagant and send a proposal to the city. I use Tim as an example as I believe his concept drawings are astounding like the one below.

One of my favorite Tim Delaney Concept Drawings

I would love to hear your feedback on this. Maybe you do know these answers or are even a professional who is willing to give it a shot. Either way, I believe we could do something amazing here and I hope fate is on our side. What a dream come true that would be!


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