Thursday, May 10, 2018

Can we build a monorail out of wax?

During his final year in office Mitch Landrieu learned for himself something that many others had discovered before him.  Nobody knows what to do with Six Flags.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has not been able to find anyone to redevelop the site of the old Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans East, meaning the property will pass, untouched, from one mayor to another for a second time.

A Landrieu adviser conceded Tuesday that she had no news to share with the public board that manages the site, nearly a year after the same adviser announced Landrieu’s office would take the lead on redeveloping it.

Responsibility for the vacant 140-acre property now falls to the 15-member Industrial Development Board and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, who will be sworn in next month.
When Mitch took charge of the proposals last year, it sparked a round of rumors and conspiracy theories about one or another ways a "fix" might be in the works.  Who knows if any of that was true. I suspect none of it was. But whatever he had in mind, it turned out "the timing" just wasn't right for it. Or at least, according to him, in retrospect, this is the reason nothing has happened.
But no such plans have materialized, Conwell said Tuesday, though she said the city still believes the site can be financially successful.

She also hinted that any project that might have come through was complicated by Landrieu’s impending exit from office.

“It is logical that anyone considering such an investment on this site would, given the timing, want to avoid the transition period between administrations,” Conwell said.
So they're saying there's a chance.

But, really, should they even be encouraging anyone at this point? The previous several attempts at this resulted in escalating frustrations at the Industrial Development Board as the same two or three bidders kept coming back with different versions of the same harebrained schemes. It got so bad at one point that the board called the proposals, "an insult to the people of New Orleans." This is also, famously, the process by which we came to know Frank Scurlock. And look how well that worked out.

But it was never only about Scurlock. There were other serial bidders with strange ideas and shoddy financing as well.  Does anybody remember this scrap metal scam, for example?  I think that's the only instance where the foolishness rose to the level of actual criminal activity. But there's always been the potential for that. And, of course, there is still time for more. Which is why it's a good idea to keep an eye out for anything having to do with Six Flags that maybe seems a little off. For example, there is this nugget at the bottom of the above linked Advocate story.
There was at least some positive news Tuesday: Developer Tonya Pope, who has long sought to revive the former Jazzland Theme Park at the site, announced that she will build a $20 million wax museum near the site instead.

That’s a modified version of a plan she and her partner, the now-closed Musee Conti, announced last year to feature the museum’s wax figures as a Jazzland theme park attraction.

Jazzland operated only two seasons before going bankrupt. It was sold in 2002 to Six Flags Entertainment, which had its own financial problems over its three-year tenure and never reopened the site after Katrina.

Pope said her project has received financial backing from former Gov. Edwin Edwards and is expected to be open by late 2018 or 2019.
Pope doesn't have Six Flags but she does have $20 million to build a wax museum near the still rotting site of Six Flags. That seems normal.

Previous to this, Pope has been involved with a company called  TPC-NOLA, a partner in bids on the property going back at least as far as 2011 when it was eliminated in the early rounds.  The next year, the winner of that prestigious contest sank into the swamp after the Riverwalk outlet mall redevelopment basically duplicated what they wanted to do in a better location.

The process didn't begin again until 2014 when IDB had a hard time getting anybody to apply.  Only Pope's group had put together a bid before the application deadline. This time, they claimed to have "spent the last two years maturing the plan and getting a lot more support from the community and business leaders."  What she meant was that they got Ashton Ryan's Money Club to buy in.
Much of the money would come from a $25 million construction loan financed by First NBC Bank and federal tax credits for revitalization projects in impoverished neighborhoods. Paidia is also counting on another $10 million in private financing for equipment, $8 million in state tax incentives and $2 million in corporate sponsorships, according to its proposal.
This is exactly the kind of shaky investment scheme that would go on to cause the spectacular collapse of FNBC. (Please see the Advocate's excellent reporting over the past year and a half.) The IDB seemed to sense a problem at the time. So they extended the deadline.  Only Scurlock showed up to join in the bidding, though. Unsurprisingly, his proposal was even less sound than Pope's and the whole thing was scrapped again.

Throughout this process, the IDB became increasingly uncomfortable with its position as a landlord. It's not really something that board is set up to do. So it was desperate to just sell the property off in 2016 when Pope came calling again.  But it wasn't clear what her plans were for development. Something about "mixed-use" dining and retail or whatever. But evidently not enough to convince anyone of anything.

In 2017, she came back again, along with Scurlock and a surprise last-minute bidder who just jumped up out of the audience.
As the board heard from the two groups making purchase offers as listed on the agenda, Henry Klein, an attorney who said he represents 30/90 Development, said his group wants to offer $5.5 million for the property, while giving no details who's involved in the group or their plans for the Six Flags site. Klein left the meeting while it was still ongoing.

IDB member Justin Augustine said people jumping out of the audience to make an offer is "not a professional process" and urged the board to use a more professional method to receive offers.
It was shortly after this episode that Mitch stepped in saying he was going to find a developer on his own.  Last month, we were not surprised to learn he was unsuccessful.  But, hey, the new mayor is installed now. And maybe we'll see where it goes when she gets back around to dealing with this. In the meantime, Pope will (maybe) be right there in the neighborhood playing around with her wax dolls or whatever. 

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