Jazzland, later known as Six Flags New Orleans, opened in 2000. Alfa SmartParks Incorporated operated the amusement park, but a Spanish company, Parques Reunidos owned the park. The park rides included the typical amusement park spinning rides and a carousel merry-go-round. Jazzland had its own unique rides including a wooden roller coaster built on a steel frame to withstand termites and hurricane-force winds called the Mega Zeph, a junior steel coaster called Rex’s Rail Runner, a steel bommerang coaster called the Zydeco Scream, a log flume ride called Cypress Plunge, and a splash-waterfalls ride called Spillway Splashout.
Once projected to draw one million people a year, Jazzland only attracted 600,000 guests to in its second year of operation. After only two years, the lease was for sale. Six Flags purchased the Jazzland amusement park out of bankruptcy protection for $22 million in 2002. Six Flags renamed the park Six Flags New Orleans. Additional shading was added, along with five spinning rides and its newest attraction, Batman: The Ride. Six Flags put their marketing muscle behind their new acquisition, even creating a new slogan, “It’s Playtime!” which featured an old dancing man named Mr. Six. Unfortunately, the park was not without controversy. In 2013, a woman was struck by a car on the Joker’s Jukebox and killed. She was not riding the ride at the time.
The last day the park operated was August 21, 2005. It was expected to reopen the following weekend on August 27 and August 28. However, once Hurricane Katrina was forecast to directly hit New Orleans, the weekend opening was canceled. Located in a low-lying section of New Orleans East, there is a six-foot earthen flood berm running along the perimeter of the park creating an artificial basin. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Six Flags became heavily flooded. The berm retained a combination of rainwater and seawater overflow from Lake Pontchartrain caused by the massive storm surge. The entire park grounds were submerged in brackish floodwater, in some places up to seven feet, for over a month. Due to the extensive water and wind damage received, Six Flags was closed indefinitely with no plans to reopen.
Initial damage reports by inspectors stated the park buildings were 80% demolished. Long-term saltwater immersion destroyed all of the flat rides. The wooden track and steel superstructure of the Mega Zeph roller coaster were both damaged beyond repair. The only large ride to escape relatively unscathed was Batman: The Ride, due to its elevated station platform and corrosion-resisted support structure. On July 1, 2006, Six Flags announced it completed its damage assessments and declared the park a total loss. Six Flags also stated that they were negotiating with the City of New Orleans an early release from their 75-year lease. However, then-Mayor Ray Nagin said he planned to hold Six Flags to the lease agreement and force them to rebuild the park. If held to the terms of the lease agreement, Six Flags would have been legally obligated to restore the entire park on the same site, but only to the extent of the insurance money that Six Flags would receive. Six Flags determined the value of assets destroyed by Hurricane Katrina at $32.5 million.
As of September 2006, they had collected $11.5 million of insurance proceeds. On December 15, 2006, Six Flags confirmed it was removing Batman: The Ride for refurbishment and relocation to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio. The roller coaster reopened as the Goliath on April 18, 2008. In addition to Batman: The Ride, Six Flags also removed shade coverings, ride parts, and various other salvageable items. In January 2007, Six Flags revealed to the Times-Picayune that the company was suing its insurers for the remaining amount. Meanwhile, the Bayou Blaster and Sonic Slam rides were removed and refurbished and taken to Six Flags Great Escape in New York. The Road Runner Express was disassembled in 2009 and relocated to Six Flags Magic Mountain in California where it was refurbished and reopened in May 2011. As late as the fall of 2009, the Six Flags website said the company was still “in the process of settling claims with its insurers due to substantial damage caused by Hurricane Katrina,” adding that the park would remain closed.
Six Flags New Orleans was one of the least profitable parks in the Six Flags portfolio. The park is a half-hour car ride away from the French Quarter and other tourist attractions. Some believe the park may have been more valuable had it been built somewhere on the West Bank or in Metairie, as these places are a shorter distance from tourist districts. These locations would have placed the park much closer to affluent population centers instead of the crime-afflicted New Orleans East where few residents could afford the expensive season passes.
In April 2008, Southern Star Amusement Inc. proposed to take over the site lease, promising to expand the park to over 60 rides (more than double its pre-Katrina size). They also stated they would complete the water park that Six Flags had been planning and add an RV park. Southern Star Amusement Inc. pledged to open the park as Legend City Adventure Park. One issue concerning rebuilding was Six Flags’ continued removal of infrastructure from the park. In June 2009, Six Flags filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. They sent out an announcement that the land would be refurbished into a Nickelodeon-branded theme park. A month later, the City of New Orleans fined Six Flags $3 million and ordered the park to vacate its lease. The plans for the Nickelodeon-branded theme park fell through by the end of the year after bonds failed to come through. By 2011, the amusement park’s post-apocalyptic look began to attract Hollywood movie scouts.
During the summer of 2012, Twentieth Century Fox filmed Perry Jackson: Sea of Monsters. Before crews could begin filming, a reported 100 alligators relocated from the property. Another dozen alligators were caught while crews were filming. They had to watch out for other animal hazards including poisonous snakes and wild boars. One crew member was bitten by a water moccasin on the second day of filming and sent to the hospital. The crew spent several weeks rewiring lights and painting sections of the park where vandals painted graffiti. They also brought in five new rides since many of the original rides were rendered inoperable from post-Katrina flooding. In 2013, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes filmed in portions of the abandoned park. Six Flags New Orleans was also used to film parts of Jurassic World in 2014. The film Deepwater Horizon built an oil rig set in the parking lot during the summer of 2015. Despite several announced plans to redevelop the property, the Six Flags remains abandoned. Today, the park is under a 24-hour security watch and patrolled by the NOPD.
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