In the middle of New Orleans, Louisiana, a strange and interesting place has drawn the attention of locals and tourists. The empty Six Flags amusement park is a sad memory of a once fun and exciting place. Its story is one of strength and tragedy, leaving behind an eerie atmosphere that continues to captivate those who dare to go into its forgotten world.
First known as Jazzland, this theme park located in New Orleans, Louisiana, opened its gates on May 20, 2000, with an overwhelming response. The inaugural day saw an estimated crowd of 20,000 to 25,000 people, and an impressive number of 75,000 to 80,000 season passes had already been sold. Operated by Alfa SmartParks – a Greek holding company, Jazzland emerged as a promising addition to the city’s entertainment scene.
The park featured distinct themed areas, including Mardi Gras, Pontchartrain Beach, Cajun Country, Jazz Plaza, Kids’ Carnival, and The Goodtime Gardens. From May to October, visitors experienced the joys of Jazzland, with season passes available at affordable prices, ranging from $89.99 for individuals to $219.96 for a family of four. Moreover, among the park’s most notable attractions was Mega Zeph, a wooden roller coaster designed with a steel frame to prevent termite infestation and withstand hurricane-force winds. Inspired by the closed Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park’s old Zephyr roller coaster, Mega Zeph stood tall as a thrilling centerpiece. Additionally, visitors could also enjoy classic amusement park spinning rides and a delightful carousel merry-go-round.
Despite a promising start, Jazzland struggled to turn a profit. Alfa SmartParks, who were primarily experienced in operating water parks and smaller amusement arcade centers, faced financial difficulties. After attracting 1.1 million visitors during its first season, attendance declined from 560,000 to 580,000 the following year. The situation worsened, ultimately leading Alfa SmartParks to file for bankruptcy in February 2002.
Consequently, in March 2002, Six Flags – a renowned name in the amusement park industry, purchased the lease for $22 million. However, the park’s expression remained unchanged then—the acquisition aimed to revitalize the struggling park under the new ownership. In August 2002, the New Orleans city council approved a 75-year lease agreement, with the remaining loan of $24.4 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to be split between the park ($1.4 million per year) and the city ($1 million per year).
On August 21, 2005, Six Flags New Orleans bid farewell to its visitors as it closed its doors for the last time, intending to operate only on weekends for the remainder of the season. Little did they know that a catastrophic event was about to unfold. A tropical depression that would soon develop into Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23, rapidly intensifying after making landfall in Florida on August 25. Sensing the imminent danger, Six Flags New Orleans made the decision to cancel operations on August 27 and 28, in anticipation of the approaching Hurricane. The iconic “CLOSED FOR STORM” sign was prominently displayed at the park’s entrance.
However, Hurricane Katrina’s sheer force and swiftness allowed little time for adequate preparations. Hence, as the storm unleashed its devastating power, the barriers designed to protect the city of New Orleans from flooding was proved insufficient. In the ensuing chaos, water surged into the city, causing unprecedented destruction. The flooding engulfed approximately 20% of the town, resulting in a staggering $100 billion worth of damage. Thus, it quickly became the costliest natural disaster ever experienced in the United States at that time, leaving an indelible mark on the city and its surrounding areas.
Tragically, Six Flags New Orleans was not spared from the hurricane’s wrath—the theme park also fell victim to the floodwaters that ravaged the city. The relentless deluge submerged the park, submerging its rides, attractions, and infrastructure under several feet of water.
Despite the presence of drainage pumps, Six Flags was no match for the overwhelming volume of water that surged into the park from Lake Pontchartrain during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. The pumps quickly became overwhelmed and failed, leaving the park defenseless against the storm’s destructive force. For more than a month, the park remained submerged in brackish saltwater, with water levels reaching up to seven feet.
Moreover, the initial damage assessments were disheartening. Reports indicated that approximately 80 percent of the rides and support structures were beyond repair. The floodwaters’ prolonged submersion and subsequent receding, created a breeding ground for mold, which thrived in the humid environment. In the aftermath of the disaster, Six Flags faced insurmountable challenges in resurrecting the park, leading to its ultimate abandonment.
Six Flags After the Hurricane Katrina
In 2006, Six Flags made a solemn announcement, declaring that they had no intentions of rebuilding the park. They deemed it a total loss and initiated negotiations to terminate their 75-year lease. The decision reflected the grim reality of the situation, as the park’s infrastructure and attractions were severely compromised, making the prospect of restoration financially unfeasible.
Following the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Six Flags faced additional challenges in attempting to recover from the destruction. The company sought to claim $150 million from the park’s insurers, but their efforts proved futile as many of the insurance policies specifically excluded flood damage.
From August to November 2005, Six Flags experienced an internal disruption as investors launched a successful proxy war to gain control of the company’s board of directors. Consequently, the ensuing turbulence and financial instability led Six Flags to face further setbacks. Furthermore, in April 2009, the company’s stock was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, ultimately resulting in Six Flags filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Amidst the financial turmoil, a settlement deal was made between Six Flags and the city of New Orleans. Under this agreement, Six Flags agreed to pay the city $3 million and 25% of any insurance recovered exceeding $65 million. In return, all litigation would be dropped, and the lease for the property would be terminated. Although reports suggested that it would cost only $1 million to demolish the park, such a figure seemed surprisingly low given the scale of the task at hand.
Since the city assumed ownership of the abandoned Six Flags property, numerous redevelopment proposals have been put forth but ultimately failed to materialize. In fact, a Louisiana-based developer Southern Star Amusement, presented three plans between 2008 and 2011, including a Nickelodeon Universe water and theme park. However, this endeavor faltered when Nickelodeon terminated its licensing agreement due to Southern Star’s inability to secure $100 million in business development bonds. Alongside the theme/water park, Southern Star proposed additional amenities such as a hotel, a sports complex, and a movie studio. However, the developer failed to meet the obligations necessary to acquire and fund the property, leading the City of New Orleans to explore alternative proposals.
Since then, the future of the abandoned Six Flags property remains uncertain. Despite the parade of redevelopment plans, the challenges of financing and executing a viable project have proven impossible, leaving the once-thriving amusement park in a state of prolonged abandonment.
Six Flags began as a dream to bring happiness and joy to both local and international tourists. Despite the challenges of declining visitor numbers, the park persevered, determined to survive. However, just when it seemed they were making progress, a catastrophic event struck, leaving them defenseless. The impact of Hurricane Katrina extended far beyond the confines of the park. It became a symbol of the tremendous loss and devastation experienced by the city and the nation as a whole. Once a symbol of joy and entertainment, the park now stands as a haunting reminder of the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina. It serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the city and its people, who continue to rebuild and find hope amidst the ruins.