In the year 2000, an appropriately named amusement park opened in New Orleans. Jazzland, a close imitator of the popular Six Flags franchise, offered a wooden rollercoaster built on a steel frame that was ironically (as you will soon discover) designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, replicas of rides located at Pontchartrain Beach, a defunct park that had been a local favorite located next to Lake Pontchartrain, and amusement park “regulars” like spinning rides, a carousel, and a log flume. Jazzland featured large, themed sculptures including clowns, crocodiles dressed as chefs, and Mardi-Gras-beaded skeletons.
Although the park seemed perfectly suited for the area, it was not profitable. In 2002, Jazzland was sold to Six Flags and renamed “Six Flags New Orleans.” The company quickly added familiar staples to the Jazzland-themed mix, including a Batman ride, a looping rollercoaster, and a Jester-themed ride relocated from a Texas location. The park retained many of its Jazzland attractions, including themed areas named Pontchartrain Beach, Mardi Gras, and Cajun Country. In early 2005, the park announced it would soon add a water park that would be included in the price of admission, but before this could progress past the planning stage, Hurricane Katrina struck. The last day of operation for Jazzland/Six Flags New Orleans was August 21, 2005, and the resulting “water park” that emerged from the wreckage of Katrina would prove insurmountable even to a national powerhouse like the Six Flags corporation.
What Happened Underwater?
Hurricane Katrina was a disaster of extreme proportions, but it surprised many that the hurricane managed to permanently shut down an amusement park owned by one of the biggest names in the business. The problem was multifaceted. First of all, the park was located in one of the lowest-lying areas of New Orleans and was totally submerged in corrosive floodwater for nearly a month after the storm had passed. Some 80 percent of the park was demolished by the time the waters receded. Although Six Flags declared the park a total loss, the mayor of New Orleans at that time announced he would hold the corporation to its 75-year lease and force the company to rebuild the park. The only way the company could do this would be to force insurers to pay nearly $25 million, of which it only successfully could collect about half due to the catastrophic nature of the storm on the area at large.
In the following years, Six Flags routinely cited its inability to collect the full insurance amount as the reason for allowing Jazzland to remain unrestored and vacant. The company also routinely removed rides and any salvageable equipment like lights, planting structures, and shade coverings, for “refurbishment,” then installed them in other parks in other locations. Local residents had neither the interest nor the funds to buy expensive season passes to the park, which had been one of the least profitable in the Six Flags portfolio even before Katrina hit.
Is Jazzland Gone Forever?
While Six Flags had clearly given up on Jazzland, New Orleans had not given up on its theme park entirely. From 2008 to 2011, another amusement park company proposed a takeover of the lease and an expansion that would have restored Jazzland to its former glory and doubled the size of the park. Sadly, the process of evicting Six Flags and getting the new park approved took so long that nature began to take over the entire Jazzland park while Six Flags continued to loot its own park and diminish the value of the property for sale.
By 2011, it was clear the project would never come to fruition, and the city proposed another manifestation of Jazzland, this time as a mixed-use retail/outlet mall and amusement theme park with an associated movie studio back lot available for filming. Sadly, the only part of this plan that came to any productive end was the movie-industry facet, as Jazzland has been used to film several dystopian productions and has hosted the lairs of multiple big-screen super villains. Ultimately, it also landed roles in “Jurassic World” as Jurassic Park after the dinosaurs trashed it and in “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” as a cyclops-targeted metropolis on a deserted island. Jazzland also landed a feature in the video game “Mafia III” as, appropriately, an abandoned amusement park that is partially flooded.
Like jazz itself, Jazzland appears determined to evolve and truly become a timeless piece of New Orleans past and present. Today, fully eight development groups have expressed interest in reopening Jazzland in various forms. It remains to be seen which, if any, ultimately will succeed in bringing the original Jazzland back to life.