Six Flags New Orleans, originally called Jazzland, opened in 2000 in New Orleans East. The amusement park was operated by Alfa SmartParks Incorporated, but owned by a company in Spain, Parques Reunidos. The rides at Six Flags included the Mega Zeph, a wooden roller coaster track built on a steel frame to prevent termite infestation and withstand hurricane-force winds. Other rides included a junior steel coaster called Rex’s Rail Runner and a steel boomerang roller coaster called the Zydeco Scream. The park also had a log flume ride called Cypress Plunge and a splash-water falls ride called Spillway Splashout. In addition, the park had common amusement park spinning rides and a carousel merry-go-round.
Jazzland had been projected to draw 1 million people a year, but only 600,000 guests visited in its second year. The park was not profitable, as Alpha Smartparks specialized in operating water parks and smaller arcade centers. After just two years, the lease was put up for sale. Six Flags purchased the $135 million Jazzland out of bankruptcy protection for $22 million in March 2002.
Six Flags renamed the park Six Flags New Orleans in April 2003 and added additional shaded areas. They put their marketing muscle behind their new acquisition, even creating a new slogan “It’s Playtime!” which featured a dancing old man named Mr, Six. Five new flat spinning rides were added, as well as an inverted coaster named Batman: The Ride relocated from the defunct Thrill Valley amusement park in Japan. Also, a multi-looping roller coaster called The Jester was transplanted from Six Flags Fiesta Texas. In July 2003, a woman was killed after being struck by a car on the Joker’s Jukebox. She was not riding the ride at the time.
In 2005, Six Flags was in the planning stages of including a water park with the price of admission and was scheduled to make the announcement at the end of August. The last day the park operated was August 21, 2005. Weekday operations had ended a couple weeks earlier, as school started back. The park was scheduled to reopen on August 27 and August 28, but once Hurricane Katrina was forecast to directly hit New Orleans, the weekend opening was canceled in order to prepare for the storm and begin evacuations.
Six Flags is located on a low-lying section of New Orleans East, with a six foot earthen flood berm running along the perimeter, creating an artificial basin. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina this area became heavily flooded. The berm retained the combination of rain water and sea water overflow from Lake Pontchartrain caused by Katrina’s 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 without plans to reopen.
Initial damage reports by Six Flags inspectors stated that the park buildings were 80% demolished. All of the flat rides had been destroyed by long term salt-water immersion and both the wooden track and steel superstructure of the Mega Zeph were likely 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 had concluded its damage assessments and declared the park to be a total loss. In addition, they had no desire or intent by the company to undertake the prohibitive cost of rebuilding. 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 stated 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 rebuild the entire park on the same site, but only to the extent of the insurance money Six Flags received. 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. In January 2007, Six Flags revealed to the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the company was suing its insurers for the remaining amount.
On December 15, 2006, Six Flags confirmed it was removing Batman: The Ride for refurbishment and relocation. The coaster was reassembled at 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, lights, security cameras, planting structures, and various other salvageable items. The Bayou Blaster and Sonic Slam rides were removed and refurbished and taken to Great Escape in New York. The Road Runner Express was removed in 2009 and taken 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.
The park had been one of the least profitable parks in the Six Flags portfolio, being well away from the French Quarter and other tourist attractions. It has been stated that the park would most likely have been more profitable had it been built somewhere on the West Bank or in Metairie, as these places are a shorter distance from tourist districts. These potential locations would have placed the park much closer to affluent population centers where a strong local base of repeat customers could have been cultivated, as opposed to the crime-afflicted New Orleans East where few residents could afford or were interested in expensive season passes to the theme park.
In April 2008, Southern Star Amusement Inc. proposed to take over the site lease from then-owner Six Flags, 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, with 60 rides in place, including a new water park by the end of 2009 if the city approved the lease takeover. One issue concerning rebuilding was Six Flags’ continued removal of infrastructure from the park. In a quarterly conference call, Six Flags discussed plans to remove more rides from the park in 2009. Items from existing rides, such as the Mega Zeph’s trains and Spillway Splashout’s boats, were sent to other parks. In September 2008, Southern Star stated on its website that it would no longer be trying to revive Six Flags New Orleans.
In June 2009, Six Flags filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was announced that the land would be redeveloped into a Nickelodeon-branded theme park in August 2009. 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. The amusement park’s post-apocalyptic look began to attract Hollywood movie scouts by 2011. The dark comedy Killer Joe starring Matthew McConaughey and Stolen starring Nicholas Cage were filmed at the park that year. The crew used the Main Street Square section of the park as the French Quarter for filming and even drove a burning car into the lagoon.
Twentieth Century Fox filmed Perry Jackson: Sea of Monsters during the summer of 2012 at the closed Six Flags. Before the crew could begin filming, a reported 100 alligators were removed from the property. Another dozen were removed during filming. They had to watch out for other animal hazards including poisonous snakes and wild boar. One crew member was sent to the hospital after being bit by a water moccasin on the second day of filming. The crew spent several weeks rewiring lights and painting sections of the park where vandals painted graffiti. They also brought in five additional rides since many of the original rides were rendered inoperable from post-Katrina flooding. In 2013, portions of the park were used for filming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The amusement park was also used to film portions of Jurassic World in 2014. The film Deepwater Horizon built an oil rig set in the parking lot during the summer of 2015. No movie studio has used Six Flags for filming since 2015. Despite several announced plans to redevelop the property, the park remains abandoned. Today, it is under a 24-hour security watch and regularly patrolled by the New Orleans Police Department.