Letter to the Editor

Lance Houpt, Principal

Playland NOLA

 

I would like to point out a few things from the “Strategic Opportunities Assessment” report. The conclusion appears to be:

“Based on the market context, the study area conditions, and input from stakeholders, the redevelopment opportunity for Jazzland with the highest potential to promote the community goals is an “education destination” that merges the benefits of the higher education and tourism sectors. The destination will be centered on the story and science of resiliency and climate change, providing research, innovation, education, and exploration opportunities. These opportunities will further and promote our understanding of living with water and propel New Orleans to be a leader in the global water economy.”

The gist of it is to me, is that they feel the target market/potential patrons/visitors would be ecotourists and visiting scholars doing research on the effects of climate change and water management. It doesn’t sound like there is a need yet for the facility they propose.

It seems to me the consultants are trying to shoe horn a solution into a problem site, but due to the uniqueness of this site and the cost involved to get the site prepared for this use and then the cost to build it might not be the “highest and best use” of the site from a cost benefit analysis and I am sure other sites would be more cost effective.

The report talks about the former Six Flags site as a gateway/trail head/visitors center to Bayou Sauvage and the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center (which just completed a $16 million rebuild):

In fact on page 71 it states “The Jazzland site with its proximity to Bayou Sauvage would be a great staging area for accessing this network of natural treasures.”

The Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, which is operated by the Federal Government already has an environmental education program.

The report is basically saying the former Jazzland site needs to be a visitor/welcome/educational center that welcomes the public to this wildlife area. As NOLA has precious spare resources to build what is proposed at the former Jazzland site (guesstimated at, at least $45 million to $65 million including demolition), wouldn’t it be better to lobby the Federal Government to build a visitor center at the Bayou Sauvage site and to expand the education programs they already offer?

Bayou Sauvage:

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bayou_Sauvage/visit/visitor_activities.html

Audubon Louisiana Nature Center:

https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/nature-center

Both of these sites already have ecotourism infrastructure in place, so why re-invent the wheel and create competition for them? Wouldn’t it be better to work with them to enhance their existing facilities, if a need was determined in time?

I doubt there is any really strong demand for this type of tourist or educational/research need; otherwise, Bayou Sauvage, Audubon, or someone else would have already expanded to fill the need.

In fact, as someone who has visited most of the National Parks, which are usually quite crowded, when I went to Everglades National Park in Florida, the park was almost empty. It was very uncomfortable, very humid and had a ton of mosquitoes. Families tend towards the more commercial/tourist activities of the wetlands like alligator wrestling and airboat rides.

If were given the opportunity to re-boot the former Six Flags site we could turn one of the buildings into a “welcome to the wetlands” visitors center with some preliminary educational information and direct them to either Bayou Sauvage or the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center — both sites are just up the street. The building of this center would be at no cost to the City, but would fulfill the same goal/niche as is proposed in the report.

I would also like to point out a discrepancy/misstatement/mischaracterization in the report about the existing conditions and the extent and cost of “Clearing The Land” in which they make it sound like it is just a matter of removing the brush, dismantling a few rides, and taking down some buildings; whereas the project really is a major demolition (see pages 32, 60 and 64 of the report – here is the link to the report: https://noelaservices.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/2019-06-04-strategic-opportunities-assessment-draft-email-2.pdf)

(In fairness to Perkins Wills, they do not have my experience and knowledge of the site gained after four years of intensive due diligence and many extensive site visits. Additionally they probably do not have the site construction photographs and some of the Civil Engineering blueprints that I possess.)

The report states “…that much of the main site has been filled to street grade and is generally level…”

Over the past three years, based on my physical knowledge of the site, studying the blueprints and construction photos and  based on what the original design builder of Jazzland-Broadmoor LLC had posted (at one time) on their website, i.e. fill was NOT added to the site.

In fact Broadmoor LLC stated on their website at the time that as a construction manager performing design build services, they saved their client time and money by NOT spending a fortune and the many, many additional months with a parade of trucks constantly dumping fill on the site to raise the low lying topography.

The solution Broadmoor LLC came up with was to install pilings in locations where rides, buildings, and the weirdly shaped walkway, known in the entertainment business as “the midway” was to be located. On top of the pilings, at approximately 42″ above the low lying high water table (swamp) topography, they poured an elevated concrete platform. On top of this platform is where the patrons walk around, the rides were installed, and the buildings built.

Tearing down the rides and the buildings are only a small part of the demolition. Removing the midway and many, many hundreds of pilings buried deep in the earth is the real project, that is, when the demolition is complete, including removing the pilings, one is left with a torn up site requiring de-watering, tons of fill needed, new canals built, existing canals and ponds dredged, and the lift pump stations rebuilt.

The report seems to infer that all the fill has been installed (to match the elevation of Michoud Blvd. — “Street Grade”) and the walkways are level and are built on top of the fill/earth, and the demolition will be easy as it is just removing some buildings and rides and the walkways can stay. Unfortunately this is not the case.

(The parking lot seems to be the only area besides the driveway into the site that seems to have had fill added. Without surveyors surveying the site one cannot tell if the parking lot had enough fill to raise it to “Street Grade”.)

Perhaps the City is just considering demolishing the site and leaving it as swampy “open space/wetlands.” (See photo below of what it will revert to post demolition as this is what the site looked like when they first started clearing the trees to build Jazzland.)

So in conclusion:

-I think the ecotourist infrastructure already exists at other existing adjacent sites and can be expanded upon or grown if this market develops. There is no need to spend $45 million to $60 million on speculation for the facility that Perkins is proposing with the hope that a market, in time, will exist for ecotourism/education/research science.

-The second part of my conclusion is clarifying what is required at the site — what the demolition will cost and then the resulting required site work to bring the site up to the “vacant state” and “street level” as referred to in the report. The report states that “site clearing” would cost $1.5 million. Tonya Pope of Jazzland Park told me that ten years ago when she was working with Southern Star they (and/or the City) obtained a quote to demolish everything on site and the quote was for $8.5 million. That is why she and I have been quoting $10 million for demolition as the quote is 10 years old and the economy has improved over the last 10 years. I have been guesstimating the cost of the site work, as delineated above, post demolition to get it to the “vacant state” (as defined in the report) is at least $2 million over and above the cost of the demolition.

-If the site typography was raised to “street level” (as defined in the report,) i.e. raising the 145.9 acres, net of lake and lagoon, to “street level”, that would require additional expenditure of millions of dollars spent over and above the $10 million + $2 million.

-Playland NOLA, or a name to be determined, is ready, willing, and able to reopen the former Jazzland Inc. theme park. Our funding is in place, and it would open in months — not years, and with over 25 rides and attractions.

These two photographs tell the story. The first is when they started clearing the land, and this is what it will look like again after the demolition, without the site work expenditures. The second photograph is of the site a year later as they were installing pilings and pouring the concrete deck and erecting buildings at approximately 42″ ABOVE the terrain/existing typography.

Swamp before Jazzland Rebuild
Future Jazzland site. Photo courtesy Lance Houpt

Pilings at Jazzland site
Future Jazzland site one year after land clearing. Photo courtesy of Lance Houpt.

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