Jazzland outlet mall in limbo with Riverwalk outlet gaining steam, developer says

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jazzland, a New Orleans amusement park, has been dormant since Hurricane Katrina. Plans to build an outlet mall on the city-owned land are in limbo, according to the developer that the city chose to get the land back into commerce.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jazzland, a New Orleans amusement park, has been dormant since Hurricane Katrina. Plans to build an outlet mall on the city-owned land are in limbo, according to the developer that the city chose to get the land back into commerce.

Plans to transform the defunct Six Flags theme park in eastern New Orleans into an outlet mall are in limbo because of another developer’s plans to turn the Riverwalk into an outlet center, said David Garcia, president of DAG Development, to the city’s Industrial Development Board on Tuesday.

Garcia’s company and partner Provident Realty submitted a proposal to breathe new life into the abandoned park in the fall of 2011 and executed the concession deal with the city and the Industrial Development Board in late November 2012.

In the months that followed, Garcia said, they conducted extensive research and talked with those in the outlet mall industry. They’ve concluded the New Orleans market, which has no outlet mall, cannot realistically support two.

“We believe that until it is certain the Riverwalk is either starting construction on their proposed outlet mall as they have publicly announced, or it is clear they are not proceeding with those plans anymore, Jazzland Outlet Mall is unfortunately in a blocked position at this time,’’ Garcia said.

Board members seemed stunned by the news.

A.B. Randolph III, the board’s vice president, said it was “kind of a bombshell,’’ and board member Elijah Feinstein said it was “terribly disappointing.’’

Members said Garcia’s presentation is not what they were expecting to hear about the future of the city-owned site.

Garcia said his company is trying to get Howard Hughes Corp., which is redeveloping the Riverwalk, to sit down to discuss the possibility of becoming part of the Jazzland project, something he said could benefit both developers and the city.

That hasn’t happened yet, he said, and while board members said they couldn’t take sides, several suggested that the city could plan a role in getting both companies to come to the table.

But Mark Bulmash, senior vice president for development at the Howard Hughes Corp., of Dallas, said Provident Reality approached them early this year with such an idea.

“While we are flattered by the offer, after fair consideration we let them know that we cannot consider that option,’’ Bulmash said Tuesday.

Garcia painted the Jazzland option as the more attractive alternative, praising its suitability as an outlet mall site and stressing the city’s desire to bring the blighted property back into commerce.

He said the Jazzland site, which is what the theme park was called before Six Flags took over its operations, meets key criteria for successful outlets malls: inexpensive land with room for expansion, abundant and free surface parking, access and visibility from a major interstate and a location that’s close to but not in the heart of major population centers.

Bulmash said his company is “bullish’’ on the Riverwalk site. He pointed to figures released by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau on Tuesday that showed 9 million visitors came to the metro area in 2012.

The mall is within walking distance of the Central Business District and French Quarter hotels and attractions and is also close to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the cruise ship terminal on Julia Street, he said

“It’s an ideal location in the epicenter of downtown,’’ he said.

Efforts to secure anchor tenants and those that follow anchors for the Jazzland site have been stymied by the fact that the Riverwalk development has been moving along with leases, Garcia told the board.

But, he added, there is still a chance to work out a deal as long as construction has not begun.

Howard Hughes Corp. is not yet ready to announce a time line for construction of what he described as a $70 million renovation, Bulmash said.

The project has crossed a threshold with lease commitments from top national and local retailers for nearly 80 percent of the center, he said.

He added 55 percent of them have signed leases and the other 25 percent are awaiting signing or are in negotiations.

Garcia acknowledged to the board that the Riverwalk is far along in the process, saying it’s not possible “to convince these key tenants to change their mind and switch to another competing location to which they already made a commitment.’’

Even the suggestion of free space in a second location didn’t change their minds, he said.

The city administration is encouraging dialogue but doesn’t know how realistic that is, according to Aimee Quirk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s adviser for economic development.

“We want to encourage economic development all over the city,’’ she said.