Baton Rouge developer eyes Six Flags site again

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News,Business,Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans' latest call for someone to take on the redevelopment of the blighted former Six Flags theme park received just one response.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/NYtuwd) 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's 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 board, 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, said in a statement that 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. Six Flags did not reopen the park after it flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The city attempted to reopen the property as an amusement park, but eventually 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 solicited ideas in January.

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 Paidia's proposed 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 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.

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.

"We're anxious to get going," Pope said. "We would really like to be under construction soon."

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 2009 bid was supported by then-Mayor Ray Nagin. 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.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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