Sable LeFrere / The Houma Courier
HOUMA, La. -- Three years after announcing plans for a theme park on the west side of Houma, a local veteran of amusement park management may be close to finding money for the project.
Jeff Hensley has continued to seek financial backing for his $400 million Bon Temps Family Theme Park project, which was originally estimated to cost $700 million.
“Just recently we made a connection out of New York. She is a banker that is helping us connect with a broker. She has helped others in the amusement park industry, and this is probably the best we have ever gotten,” Hensley said.
Hensley said he has been frustrated with potential investors in the past.
“It's usually all over the board. They won't invest because the economy is bad. But if it was better, they would probably be looking at double the price. Others feel it might take too long for them to get their money back. I can get their money back from the investment pretty quickly, but I can't fight with an investor,” Hensley said.
An investor wanting full control was another issue Hensley faced in seeking financial support.
The project calls for a theme park, hotel and outdoor shopping mall in the first phase that would take a year and a half to two years to construct.
Later phases would include another hotel, condos, a convention center and one or two other projects, Hensley said.
The theme park would feature six different areas including one centered around the Old West, Hensley said. There would be a “first of its kind” roller coaster, two wooden coasters, three large trains that will accommodate more than 300 people and more.
Hensley has also reached out to some “Iron Chefs” about establishing a restaurant in the mall along with a Hard Rock Café. And he said he would use environmentally friendly methods to develop the project.
He and his board of advisers have a meeting with Parish President Michel Claudet today to discuss the project. He said the banker has requested information that has to come through the parish.
“For someone that doesn't know the area, it makes sense that they want every bit of information they can get when possibly investing that amount of money,” Hensley said. “Most investors ask ‘why not New Orleans?' But they don't realize New Orleans is not what it used to be since the hurricane. Houma is now so packed and so busy it just makes more sense to put it here.”
Ex-councilman Billy Hebert is a part of the three-man advisory board and has been assisting Hensley with his business plan.
The project, which would boost sales and property tax revenue, is the largest single investment in the parish in a long time, Hebert said.
Steve Vassallo, CEO of Terrebonne Economic Development Authority, said an adequately funded theme park would be a great addition to the parish.
“I would love to see one here. I would like to see it as close to Highway 90 as possible. The closer you could get to a major boulevard or highway is really conducive to the success,” Vassallo said. “That certainly adds to the community's amenities. I think it's good if demographics warrant it.”
Now would be the time to push for a park because the economy is improving, Vassallo said.