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Will the old Six Flags site ever be redeveloped?

The 227-acre abandoned theme park is arguably New Orleans biggest eye sore. There have been dozens of plans that never really got out of the planning stage.

NEW ORLEANS — Abandoned roller coasters and a rusting Ferris Wheel have loomed over New Orleans East for 17 years. The old Six Flags Amusement Park closed for the storm and never reopened.

But just last year, the City of New Orleans chose a developer to take on the massive project. Unfortunately, it’s been all quiet ever since. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before.

Nickelodeon was going to take over the space in 2009. Then-mayor Ray Nagin even brought Sponge Bob to a press conference to make the announcement.

Two years later, Mayor Mitch Landrieu floated plans to turn the space into an outlet mall. Seven years after that, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the search for a new developer for the site.

Several teams competed for the lease, including one fronted by Saints stars Drew Brees and DeMario Davis.

But the community backed another plan: Bayou Phoenix.

Credit: AP
In this June 22, 2019 aerial photo, a roller coaster and concession buildings of the abandoned Six Flags Great Adventure Amusement Park are seen in New Orleans. The abandoned New Orleans amusement park that has stood empty since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 may finally be torn down. The Six Flags park never reopened after the levees failed and flooded the city with water. Mayor LaToya Cantrell says her office is targeting the site for demolition. (DroneBase via AP)

The defunct theme park would be cleared out and in its place would come movie studios, indoor and outdoor sports complexes, two hotels, a water park, restaurants and several stores. Ultimately, Bayou Phoenix won the city’s approval.

“We’re going to deliver and we believe that Bayou Phoenix has proven their ability to do just that,” Cantrell said in 2021.

The City initially said the lease would be in developers' hands by the end of that year, but the deal is still in limbo a year later. At the heart of the problem is the matter of control – as in who has final say on what happens at the former Six Flags site.

“There’s a difference between oversight and interference,” Bayou Phoenix Developer Troy Henry said. “We don’t have a problem with oversight, we have a big problem with interference. And both of us having a hand on the steering wheel is interference.”

Henry says there’s already serious interest from operators and tenants to become a part of the $500 million plan, but they’re counting on dealing with him and the Bayou Phoenix team, not the city.

“New Orleans’ reputation in the business and development community hasn’t been that stellar,” Henry said. “So when you begin to explain to businesses, companies, brands, that everything has to go through some board that we picked by some organization before we can connect the deal it really turns them off.”

The tension between developer and the city came to a head at the Industrial Development Board meeting in November, where it was said that the deal was “on life support” due to a break down in negotiations.

Credit: AP
FILE -This Aug. 27, 2013 aerial file photo, shows abandoned Six Flags amusement par in New Orleans. Officials in New Orleans are searching for a developer to revitalize a former Six Flags amusement park site that was left abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. Many prior attempts to get the site off the ground have all fallen through but Jeff Schwartz, the city’s director of economic development, said Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, that officials are still determined to restore the area, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported. ( AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

At the meeting, members of the IDB floated the idea of cutting the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, who will lease the site to Bayou Phoenix, out of the deal completely by selling the site to Bayou Phoenix directly.

We’ll know more about that idea and if the deal will survive at December’s IDB meeting. The City of New Orleans declined to do an interview with WWL-TV on the subject, but released this statement:

"The City remains committed to working with Bayou Phoenix to recognize the dream of a completely developed and economically healthy former Six Flags site. Although we are encouraged by the cooperation displayed by all invested partners and stakeholders, the City of New Orleans will not waiver in its commitment to a development project that is transparent, accountable and is in the best interest and of the utmost benefit of the people of New Orleans."

That’s little comfort for New Orleans East residents like Tangee Wall, who have seen these deals break down several times before.

“It's on life support, I have no reason to feel confident that at the end of this month, or at the end of any month, that there's any seriousness being applied to this,” Wall said.

She’s seen small businesses, homes and even some bigger buildings come back in the 17 years since Hurricane Katrina, but nothing presents an opportunity like Bayou Phoenix.

“I think that the city would gain a lot of notoriety, revenue, tourism – all the things that this city is built upon,” Wall said.

And she’s not alone. District E Councilmember Oliver Thomas believes the redevelopment of Six Flags will have an impact far beyond New Orleans East.
“That development has an impact on the region, that has an impact on the state – on the entire gulf coast,” Thomas said.

He sees every piece of blight in New Orleans as an opportunity. None of them are bigger than the Old Six Flags and Jazz Land site.

But to seize that opportunity, the City needs to focus on facilitating the deal.
“Government doesn’t need to control development,” Thomas said.

“Government doesn’t need to be sitting on permits. Government doesn’t need to be specifically just worried about penalizing businesses, right? Allow businesses to do business.”

But if that happens for Bayou Phoenix, only time will tell.

RELATED: Six Flags redevelopment 'on life support' as negotiations hit major snags

RELATED: N.O. says it has demolished 67 abandoned buildings this year - there are thousands left

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