Company trying for third time to reopen Jazzland

The city’s latest call for someone to take on the redevelopment of the blighted former Six Flags theme park in New Orleans East received just one response. It came from a company that has twice before attempted to redevelop the site.

TPC-NOLA Inc., a subsidiary of the Paidia Co. of Baton Rouge, was the lone respondent to the request for proposals. The company is proposing a theme park, a movie-production backlot, a water park and a retail component at the site.

Industrial Development Board President Alan Philipson said he was surprised by the poor response but doesn’t believe it means there is no interest in redeveloping the site.

Another company turned in a short summary of a proposal but did not include the $5,000 nonrefundable deposit required for consideration, IDB administrator Sharon Martin said.

The 46-day window to prepare and submit proposals may have been too short for some people, Philipson said. Mardi Gras could also have distracted interested parties from submitting a plan on time.

Philipson said the lackluster response indicates to him that the city and the IDB — which owns the property on behalf of the city — should do more to broadcast the opportunity.

“I think we would all agree that maybe we should do broader advertising of the proposal,” Philipson said. “I think there is interest. I think we have a choice piece of property out there and a development that will be beneficial to the entire city.”

Aimee Quirk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s top aide for economic development, issued a statement saying the city also “believes there is strong interest in the property” and “will continue to market the opportunity to attract new offers” while evaluating the Paidia proposal.

Philipson will chair a five-member panel that will review proposals for the site.

This is the second time in a little more than two years that the city has tried to return the former theme park to commerce through a request for offers on the site.

Six Flags did not reopen the theme park at the site after it flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The city attempted to reopen the property as an amusement park, but eventually it terminated its lease with a bankrupt Six Flags in 2010 and issued an RFP in late 2011.

After the winner of the 2011 process pulled out, the IDB again began soliciting new ideas for the 150-acre site, about 65 acres of which is developed, in January.

The latest request for proposals suggested a wide range of potential uses for the property, including “an amusement or water park, projects related to the film industry, a family entertainment venue, a shopping center or other commercial or retail facility, a business or technology park, a ‘clean’ manufacturing facility, a warehouse, an office building or buildings, a hotel, resort or conference center, or any other appropriate use.”

Philipson said the review committee will convene sometime next week to consider the lone response. If the panel is comfortable with the Paidia Co. proposal, it could vote to move forward with it, he said.

“If we’re not 100 percent sure, it doesn’t mean we’ll reject it, but we may put it to the side while we consider others,” Philipson said.

Although the IDB set a deadline of Feb. 28 for initial responses, the committee will continue to accept proposals. The city will have to come to some decision on the Paidia project by March 28, but if it gets more proposals, it will be able to negotiate with more than one party at a time, rather than moving forward with one project to the exclusion of all others, as was the case in the last RFP process.

Paidia President Tonya Pope said she hopes the city makes a decision on her proposal soon because financing for the plan includes $8 million in state tax credits that would require construction to begin by the end of the year.

Losing those credits would not “kill us by any means, but anytime we lose an incentive package it’s not a good thing,” Pope said.

Paidia’s plan calls for eventually redeveloping the entire 150-acre site, with an amusement park, a movie backlot, a water park, and a retail and dining area. Paidia estimates it would cost $50 million to develop the first phase of the facility, including the theme park and film backlot. The theme park would carry the site’s original name, Jazzland.

The company says it has 90 percent of the necessary financing in place. In addition to the $8 million in state incentives, the park would be paid for with a $25 million construction loan, $10 million in private capital for equipment financing and $2 million in sponsorships from a “soft drink company, automotive company, USAgencies, Ferrara Fire Apparatus, sugar manufacturer, Louisiana seasonings company, consumer electronics manufacturer, aerospace company, etc.,” according to the proposal.

“We’re anxious to get going,” Pope said. “We would really like to be under construction soon.”

Pope said she has worked as a themed-entertainment consultant for the past 13 years. Other principals in Paidia, which is named after the Greek goddess of play, include Dan Kyle, the state’s former legislative auditor; Roy Turley, who has more than 25 years of experience building, managing, developing and operating theme parks; and Peter Markham, who led Walt Disney’s construction company and helped build part of Walt Disney World.

Plans are for the new Jazzland to celebrate Louisiana, with art, music and cultural elements that reflect the state’s heritage. There would be multiple venues for live music, including an outdoor concert stage with seating for 1,000, plus a river rapid ride, an alligator habitat and an interactive hunting ride. The park would reopen by summer 2015.

Reopening the facility would generate $2 million in new sales tax revenue during the first year of operation and lead to 400 new jobs during the first five years of operation, according to the Paidia proposal.

Pope has tried twice before to redevelop the theme park. She was part of a company called Southern Star Amusement whose bid was publicly supported in 2009 by then-Mayor Ray Nagin. Southern Star had proposed reopening the Six Flags park with many of its former rides. The company had a short-lived partnership with Nickelodeon that would have branded the park with the media company’s name. However, Southern Star was unable to produce financing for its plan, and its relationship with Nickelodeon ended after three months.

Paidia also was one of eight firms to respond to the city’s 2011 RFP. Its proposal was eliminated in the first round, in part, because the selection committee was not satisfied with its financial plan.

The team of Provident Realty and DAG Development, which won the city’s endorsement, proposed building a 400,000-square-foot upscale outlet mall at the site. That plan fell apart after another developer announced plans for an outlet mall at the Riverwalk Marketplace in the heart of the city. The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk is expected to open in late spring or early summer. DAG principal David Garcia said the New Orleans market couldn’t support two malls, and the developers terminated their lease agreement with the IDB in October.

Pope said her team has refined its proposal this time around.

“It really has matured over the last 21/2 years,” she said. “The park (proposal) has matured to where it’s at a construction-ready stage.”