With so much that still needs to be rebuilt in New Orleans, the tragedy of Katrina is hard for some to put behind them. A quick drive through the area and you’d think the hurricane hit in 2010 – not six years ago. Rebuilding a financially-strapped area is tough; understandably the last to receive aid and insurance claims would be the private recreation industry. Mired in legal battles with the insurance carriers and the city of New Orleans, Six Flags has all but admitted they aren’t planning to rebuild the theme park. The cost to do so is extremely prohibitive, as is the cost of demolition. For a park that was already losing money before Katrina struck, it didn’t bode well to expect a rebuild of Six Flags New Orleans after the disaster. While the park may never re-open, it does provide for an amazing photographic tour.
In 2002, Six Flags signed a 75-year lease with the City of New Orleans for the property. It was almost a turn-key operation for Six Flags; the park had previously opened in 2000 as “Jazzland”, operated by Alfa Smartparks. Two years later, financial problems overcame Alfa and Six Flags assumed the lease. (Click thumbnails to enlarge)
When Katrina hit in 2005, the failed levees left the entire park submerged under 4-7 feet of standing floodwater for weeks. Understandably being toward the lower-end of the priority totem pole for recovery crews, draining Six Flags didn’t happen for nearly a month. As such, engineers that have examined the site have reported over 80% of all structures were a total loss.
Six Flags welcome sign: 2005, 2007, 2009
Only one attraction – Batman: The Ride – was salvageable, and in 2008 it was moved to the Six Flags in San Antonio and rebadged “Goliath.” Six Flags estimated Katrina caused $32.5 million in damage, but to date insurance carriers have only paid out $11.5 million. It is doubtful Six Flags would have rebuilt the park even if the entire insurance claim had been paid: the New Orleans location was a loss-leader for the Six Flags Corporation for several years. They were probably happy to take the claim and surrender the park.
Following Katrina in 2005, Six Flags had not made lease payments while they were awaiting insurance settlements. By 2009 Six Flags formally tried to break the lease with the city of New Orleans, citing “irrecoverable damages and financial loss.” New Orleans, hurting for money themselves, was not going to let Six Flags off easy. Six Flags was fined $3 million for prior obligations and as a settlement for breaking the lease.
2006 & 2009
The city of New Orleans did try to offer incentives to other amusement park companies in an effort to re-develop the area. There was a proposal to build a Nickelodeon-branded water park in 2009, but this fell through when the supposed bond offering by the city (intended to fund the project) failed to materialize.
The exit signs: 2006 & 2009
Back in 2008 Southern Star Amusement, Inc. had proposed to take over the park with aggressive plans to expand it to over 60 rides. Southern Star was even going to include a RV park next to what was to be called “Legend City Adventure Park.” During this time, Six Flags had been selectively pulling equipment from the site without doing demolition; “looting” their own property of what was recoverable. The removal of everything of value also removed the appeal to any suitors to restore the park, and by late 2008 Southern Star pulled all plans and bowed-out of the bidding.
Realizing that Six Flags was pilfering the site prior to insurance settlements and payments to New Orleans, the city sought to stop Six Flags’ recovery operations. A “cease and desist” mandate was given to Six Flags, with New Orleans reminding them they were on a lease and all associated property on the land belongs to the city. Southern Star Amusement also sent requests to Six Flags for a return of the various equipment removed after Katrina.
Coaxing from the city of New Orleans brought Southern Star back as possible suitors in 2009, albeit with much smaller plans for the park. Instead of expanding the park with a $50 million, 60-ride build-out, Southern Star reduced plans to a mere renovation. Today, the delays surround funding: there were suggestions to offer Go Zone bonds to raise the $35 million just needed to re-open the park with basic improvements.
In 2011 Southern Star Amusement, Inc. officially released its letter of intent for the site, and the draft for a 75-year lease is currently being reviewed. In the meantime cleanup and demolition around the site has begun in earnest. It’s unclear if the cleanup is due to the efforts of the city, Six Flags, or Southern Star, since responsibility for care of the land has been disagreed upon for six years now
Six Flags has maintained that the east New Orleans site is not ideal for a theme park, a comment most likely founded by their lack of profitability at that location. If that is true, Southern Star Amusement, Inc. might just have their work cut out for them. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures. Soon it might just be all we have left of Six Flags New Orleans.
See the Ghost Theme Park on Satellite & Map: click here