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Could Nickelodeon be coming to the former Six Flags New Orleans?

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Published: August 19, 2009 at 10:14 AM

Popular kids TV channel Nickelodeon is now officially on board with a proposal to redevelop the Six Flags New Orleans theme park, which was shuttered after Hurricane Katrina hit the area five years ago.

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.


View Larger Map
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.

Readers' Opinions

From TH Creative on August 19, 2009 at 10:27 AM
Did I read this correctly? They think they are gonna build an entire theme park for $165 million?

Um ... good luck with that.

From Robert Niles on August 19, 2009 at 10:35 AM
Well, they are starting with an undersized park with off-the-shelf attractions that were sitting underwater for weeks, five years ago, and haven't been maintained since then.

That's a head start, right?

/sarcasm

From Anthony Murphy on August 19, 2009 at 11:11 AM
Eh, I wouldn't mind seeing them try it out! I just think they picked a bad area due to the Hurricane thing, LA government being a little wild (who will probably have some kind of oversight on it), and it being so close to FL.
From Joshua Counsil on August 19, 2009 at 11:19 AM
There's really only one word for this:

Durp.

I really don't know what else to say. There doesn't seem to be anything going for them. It's ... complete and utter nonsense. It's ... too dumb for words.

Durp durp durp durpity doo.

From Derek Potter on August 19, 2009 at 11:30 AM
I do think that there is potential in New Orleans for a mid sized amusement park. Jazzland was only a couple of years old when it was purchased by Six Flags..who at the time was just beginning it's financial tailspin. Given a little time and proper management and marketing, I think Jazzland could have been just fine. Katrina did a number on this park, but it was Six Flags' inability or unwillingness to rebuild that really killed it.

As far as Nickelodeon goes, the question is why are they severing ties with Cedar Fair? If Cedar Fair is severing the ties, than Cedar Fair is nuts....unless they have someone like Nintendo on deck (please). If Nickelodeon is severing ties to open this place, than Nick is nuts. They will lose the market share they have already, and potential to move in to the other Cedar Fair parks.

165 million dollars for a real theme park is not enough. While there are some attractions to restore and work with, this isn't enough money to build an experience that would draw crowds from hundreds of miles. New Orleans is a regional market, and the only way it becomes national is if big time theme park money is poured into the project. If Nick can stay with Cedar Fair and move into the parks that weren't Paramount, it puts them in places like Knott's and
Cedar Point, and moves them into the other smaller markets. Those smaller markets don't seem like much, but they are A) already established parks, and B) probably just as big or bigger than the New Orleans market would be.

If I'm Nickelodeon, I'm looking for a way to stick with a major player in the industry. Although Cedar Fair isn't the authority on themed rides, they have a national presence. Nickelodeon's best scenario...get involved with a company that would use them in a proper themed way and also has the market. Disney out, Universal out, Cedar Fair...likely out too. Solution...find out who is buying the Busch parks and give them a call.

From 71.1.228.171 on August 19, 2009 at 12:20 PM
I know Katrina did a lot of damage to the area, but if you look at the aerial shots on bing.com's maps and click on bird's eye view (use the coordinates Robert provided: +30° 3' 8.37", -89° 56' 4.47"), it actually looks pretty good for a park that's been vacant for so long. I'd love to hear from any park engineers among TPI readers as to whether anything indeed might be salvageable. I know you can't inspect a ride from a photo, but I still want to hear from someone with an engineering perspective.
From Audra Distler on August 19, 2009 at 12:35 PM
Derek, I'm assuming that if Nick is out of Cedar Fairs, it will all be covered up by Snoopy stuff, as it all is in CP already... So it's not really something CF is losing, if Nick is the one pulling out. Really, that is probably the ONLY themed area in CP as it is! :)
From Ted Heumann on August 19, 2009 at 12:36 PM
I think that Paramount/Viacom/Nickelodeon was STUPID for selling their parks in the first place!
Sure the parks weren't in prime markets (Santa Clara/San Jose, CA anyone?), but they showed REAL promise right before they sold them. Plus they could have expanded (Six Flags has parks for sell) into bigger markets (So Cal and Florida).
This idea is just STUPID. But since Paramount/Viacom/Nickelodeon isn't putting up any money, what do they care?
From 97.104.151.63 on August 19, 2009 at 2:53 PM
For a little more than $165 you could buy another site, build a Schlitterbaun level water park and lease a parcel of the property to a resort hotel operator. And water park attractions are pretty much turnkey construction.
From 71.81.46.215 on August 19, 2009 at 4:29 PM
I love the idea because I live in the area BUT Nick better have good lawyers because the land is sinking and the politics are BAD.
From 72.186.214.226 on August 20, 2009 at 7:01 PM
Robert Niles, you are a freaking jerk. As a Nickelodeon fan, I was excited as heck to find out that they're getting such a big stand alone theme park, but you had to point out flaws not even two days after the news came in. You media scumbags are all the same: Taking perfectly great news and ripping it to sheads. I know it's your opinion and you have a right to it, but frankly, I still hate it. As soon as this Nickelodeon park opens, I'm heading over there and have a good time just so I can tick you off and prove you wrong, along with all of you sick news story writing pinheads who feed off the joy of making people feel horrible through news. All of you need to wake up and get a life, because you disgust me.

Stand up for Nick until the end,
Taylor Lee Ledbetter

From 70.190.17.75 on August 23, 2009 at 8:11 PM
Believe it or not, New Orleans used to have a piece of the aerospace business. I lived in the immediate area of the theme park when the homes there were brand-new and many of the residents were aerospace-related workers. It was considered quite a nice subdivision at the time. So, I would like to see the area pick up.

The thing is that over time, the neighborhood evolved from being a solid-white neighborhood to being solid black. People in that neck of the woods don't tolerate mixed neighborhoods very well. Thus, white suburbanites have to travel into an all-black neighborhood to visit the theme park; and any theme park needs the business of this demographic group to survive. And, white suburbanites don't feel particularly safe there, especially if they're leaving the theme park after dark.

So, if you were to ask me, that's why Jazzland and Six Flags didn't do well in that particular spot. As I mentioned, I would like to see a theme park do well in this location, but I don't see how any park is going to attract enough locals to keep it going. I don't think that enough tourists from less racially-biased parts of the country are going to pour in to make up the gap.

Let's hope I'm wrong. It would be nice if Nick succeeds and the park makes a go of it.

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