Save for a production crew and a colony of actors dressed as apes squatting amid the ruins, the former Six Flags theme park is much the same now as it was nine months ago when the city gave exclusive development rights to a team with a plan to turn it into an upscale outlet mall.
With that proposal dead, no other ready to succeed it and the city barred from pursuing other deals while it remains under contract with the mall developers, the property sits.
That much is certain.
Less so is what happens at the end of the year when the Industrial Development Board is free to cut ties with Provident Realty and DAG Development, the team that proposed the mall project it no longer believes is viable.
IDB President Alan Philipson told his board last week that the city has quietly been negotiating with the Provident and DAG team to put together a new idea for the site.
“I can only assure you that I know that the city is working diligently to get something into the works that is going to take over and use this property,” Philipson said. “At this point, the city is not ready to go public with it until they have more documentation. And the people they’re talking to have to get their ducks in a row as far as what they’re doing. But there is an ongoing effort. I just urge you to give the city a little bit of time here.”
Board members bristled at the news, rankled both by the lack of previous updates on the development team’s new plans and the possibility that the group would get another crack at the site without having to submit a new proposal through a public request for ideas.
“If Provident submitted (a Request for Proposal) for a specific project, for an outlet mall, it doesn’t seem to me that they can arbitrarily do something else besides that without first going back to the city with a brand new RFP,” board member A.B. Randolph III said.
The discussion of whether or not Provident and DAG should be allowed to deviate from its original proposal and build something new at the site, could, over the next few months, add yet another layer to the former park’s complex history.
The Six Flags theme park in eastern New Orleans never reopened after the breach of the city’s levee system in 2005 left it consumed by water.
After several attempts to reopen it as an amusement park failed, the city terminated its lease with a bankrupt Six Flags in 2010 and issued a public plea for redevelopment ideas in late 2011. The outlet mall, proposed by Dallas-based Provident and the New Orleans firm DAG, was selected last summer from a group of eight mostly unremarkable respondents. The team received exclusive rights to develop the property in October.
The joint venture proposed building a 400,000-square-foot upscale outlet mall and entertainment boardwalk on the 150-acre site. Future phases of the plan proposed a big-box retailer, amphitheater, sports field, water park and hotel.
Since then, the team has decided the retail project will no longer work because a similar outlet mall project is underway at the Riverwalk Marketplace in downtown New Orleans. The shopping center’s owner, Howard Hughes Corp., is planning a $70 million overhaul of the riverfront site.
For now, the site’s only use is as a film location for “The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Fox Louisiana Productions is filming in a portion of the abandoned park through mid-August.
The IDB is also negotiating with two other major film studios for leases that would run through the end of this year and into 2014.
DAG Development owner David Garcia said his firm has been “actively pursuing” a new, nonretail usage for the site. Garcia said it is too soon to provide other details but said he has been working with the city to put the pieces together.
The team has continued to pay the $1,667 monthly fee it is charged by the IDB as part of the contract that allows it to conduct due diligence at the Six Flags site.
The city is tight-lipped about its involvement, officially saying only that IDB remains under contract with the Provident and DAG team for an outlet mall or retail site.
“There are no alternative plans with that developer or any other at this time,” Landrieu administration spokesman Ryan Berni said in June. The city has “not set out a process by which we would explore alternatives,” Berni said.
Asked for additional comment in light of Philipson’s declaration during the IDB’s latest meeting, the administration reissued Berni’s statement.
Provident and DAG are under contract with the IDB until October, at which time it must present a development plan to the board, which can accept or reject it.
The developer’s contract specifies the construction of an outlet mall, but it does not explicitly prohibit giving the developers an opportunity to put something else there.
Several members of the Industrial Development Board, so far, are not warm to the idea of the DAG and Provident team working behind closed doors on a new plan without their input. The development team did not comply with the six-month deadline to submit an update, in the form of an engineering report, to the board, members complained.
“They were supposed to give us an update at six months,” IDB board member Susan Good said last week. “That was one of their benchmarks.”
Garcia said the team conducted the engineering studies but didn’t think it made sense to go before the board with a study about a mall it doesn’t intend to build. Instead the team intended to update the board on its new plans when those became available, Garcia said.
Board member Eugene Green requested that the team be compelled to present at the board’s meeting next month.
“My problem with this project is that it’s just a valuable piece of land for New Orleans East,” Green said. “This is a blight on a very important area of our city.”