Could Nickelodeon be coming to the former Six Flags New Orleans?
Published: August 19, 2009 at 10:14 AM
Howard Smith, Nickelodeon's vice president for recreation, joined with the head of a start-up amusement park development company yesterday to announce plans for the park. It's not a done deal, by any means. Viacom, Nick's corporate parent, and the start-up, Southern Star Amusement Group, want local and state authorities to pay the majority of the project's estimated $165 million cost. Southern Star, which has not yet developed any other projects, also needs to come up with millions on its own, too.
And there's a competing proposal to redevelop the site for amateur sports stadiums, though that project doesn't have any funding, either.
Nevertheless, Smith said that Nickelodeon is committed to the project, at least from a marketing perspective. "We will marshal our resources to get [viewers] to come to the park," he said at the press conference, hosted by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.
Since Six Flags still has the lease on the property, that company - and its bankruptcy judge - must be part of any deal to transfer or terminate the current lease. And the project needs to secure $100 million from the sale of Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds, a program set up to encourage investment in the area after Katrina. And Southern Star needs to raise money to bring to the table. (Nick's not putting any cash into this, and will get a licensing fee out of it.) So while Southern Star has managed to bring Nickelodeon on board - making this proposal newsworthy - there's much, much more that needs to happen before Nickelodeon Park gets listed on TPI.
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A map of the Six Flags New Orleans site (the green arrow)
Okay, now it's opinion time.
You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.
First, I find Nickelodeon's theme park strategy incomprehensible. To me, the idea ought to be to reach the widest number of freely spending theme park visitors as possible, in an environment that enhances your brand. Instead, Nick all but pulled out of the Universal theme parks in Orlando and LA in favor of placing its brands in Viacom-owned amusement parks in secondary markets. Then Viacom sold those parks to Cedar Fair, which is widely expected to drop Nick branding from its parks next season.
So what's left? Nick took over the Camp Snoopy park at Mall of America and has branding on a Holiday Inn on an obscure section of South I-Drive in Orlando. Now, potentially, Nick could be adding a park located east of New Orleans, a mid-sized and shrinking media market.
That's it. In less than a decade, Nick's gone from strong presence in two of the top 10 attended theme parks in the country to one, and possibly two, lightly-attended seasonal parks in stagnant secondary markets.
What the eff?
Now, let's talk about the New Orleans market. I spent a night in New Orleans less than two weeks ago, and drove past the Six Flags site. I love New Orleans, but it remains a shell of its former self. Even before Katrina, the market had a hard time supporting the former Jazzland. It was always a small park, located at the intersections of Interstates 10 and 510, east of the city. There is no way that $165 million transforms it into a worthy destination theme park resort, especially not in an environment that has as little family-friendly tourist infrastructure as post-Katrina New Orleans. If the stars align and the project actually comes together, it will produce, at best, a regional-quality amusement park (with Nick branding) in a region that can't support a regional-quality park.
So, in a perverse way, I suppose it makes a weird sort of sense that Nickelodeon would attach itself to this project. Viacom seems like a company that is going out of its way to screw up in the theme park business.