BY JESSICA WILLIAMS, theadvocate.com
Three different developers presented offers Tuesday to buy the dilapidated Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans East, but the public board that manages the land did not seem to take the impromptu auction all that seriously.
The 15-member Industrial Development Board eventually agreed to formally consider the offers, which ranged from $3.26 million to $5.5 million, at a meeting in March. In the meantime, a committee will review the proposals.
“I’ve got people just jumping out of the audience giving offers,” said board member Justin Augustine III, who also serves as general manager of the company that manages the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority's operations. “That’s not a professional process.”
The spontaneous bidding war came amid frustration from developers over the board’s indecision about what to do with the land, which has been advertised in two different requests for proposals over the past five years and which the board also has considered selling.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the board have treated the land, largely unused since Hurricane Katrina, as a political hot potato. The board has accused Landrieu’s administration of reneging on a deal reached under former Mayor Ray Nagin that would have made the city responsible for managing the site.
Landrieu’s office has said the city does not have the cash to pay for security and other costs associated with the abandoned park.
Tensions also spiked after IDB President Alan Philipson moved more than two years ago to court firms who might market the land to national developers, but was apparently told to stand down by Lanedrieu's office.
The mayor has since become an advocate for bringing a national team on board.
A separate board vote Tuesday suggested that relations between the two sides may have improved somewhat. While IDB members in December rejected a request from a Landrieu aide that they abandon their 2014 RFP for the land, they agreed Tuesday to do so.
That does not mean that current proposals or new ones will be ignored, board attorney David Wolf said. Rather, the board is rescinding the RFP because it forbade developers from discussing their plans with city officials or individual board members before those plans were reviewed by a board committee.
The RFP, which called for developers to either lease the land or make other arrangements for it, also has not been as fruitful as the board hoped, Wolf added.
The entire process, nonetheless, appeared to irk three would-be developers present, who soon began throwing out prices at which they would buy the property.
Tonya Pope, with Jazzland Theme Park, offered to pay $3.26 million, the price an independent appraiser has said the property is worth.
Pope wants to restore the Jazzland park that predated Six Flags and bring retail and other options to the site, though her proposal has been criticized in the past because it lacked major financial commitments.
But she has since received an offer of firm financial help, she said in an interview Tuesday. And the need to redevelop the land in the East is all the greater after a tornado severely damaged hundreds of homes in that area last week, she said.
Though a separate $4.5 million cash offer from local businessman Frank Scurlock seemed even more appealing, Scurlock said later that he planned to rescind it because the board would not consider his proposal immediately.
Scurlock, whose family invented inflatable bounce houses, also proposes to bring an amusement park to the site. His Dreamlanding Adventure Park would be a “city within a city,” he said.
Henry Klein of 30/90 Development offered $5.5 million but conceded that he did not yet have all that money. He also did not detail his plans.
After Klein's comments, Scurlock told the board, “Our diligence is done, and the money is in the bank.”
The back-and-forth seemed to peeve Augustine and others, and Philipson noted that none of the proposals was in writing, except Pope's.
Board member Eugene Green said the issue before the IDB is not just a purchase price but whether developers can turn the park into something profitable.
"Just selling it alone is only the beginning," he said.