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Firm renews interest in converting abandoned Six Flags theme park into eastern New Orleans sports complex
By Richard Thompson, The Times-Picayune
December 11, 2009, 7:19AM
Chris Granger / The Times-PicayuneA California-based firm wants to convert the old Six Flags site in eastern New Orleans into a sprawling sports complex.
A month after cable television giant Nickelodeon backed off plans to redevelop the abandoned Six Flags theme park in eastern New Orleans, representatives from the California-based Big League Dreams renewed their interest this week in the site as a potential home for a new sprawling sports complex.
The company, which operates nine recreational sports complexes throughout the country, will research the project during the next three to four months, Pat Knight, its director of new park operations, told members of a City Council committee on Thursday.
Under the proposal, New Orleans officials would be responsible for covering the estimated $25 million cost of construction, in exchange for Big League Dreams staffing and maintaining the facility for 30 years.
City Council President Arnie Fielkow, who has championed the project, has said the funding could be raised through local, state and federal sources.
Much of the cost could later be recouped through direct and indirect spending tied to the park, according to company officials, who have pegged annual figures at around $9 million and $29 million, respectively.
Best known for building baseball stadiums that replicate those in Major League Baseball, Big League Dreams complexes often include facilities to play baseball, softball, soccer, in-line hockey, basketball, flag football and volleyball. An arcade and batting cages are available, as well as an on-site restaurant.
During the day, the complexes are free to the public, similar to a public park. The company generates revenue by charging local sports leagues to use them at night and by marketing them to regional sports groups that would meet for tournaments.
Fielkow, at a hearing for the council's Youth and Recreation Committee, said he is optimistic that the company wouldn't have a problem attracting participants to the facility. "The uniqueness of this is unlike anything that we've ever seen, " he said.
Knight, making his pitch to committee members, emphasized that the initial cost would sustain the park for the long-run.
"The beauty of it, " he said, "is that once the park is built, you never have to put another dime into it."
That was welcome news for committee members, who remarked that the site, once heralded as a tourist attraction, has sat untended for four years.
Nickelodeon's announcement last month ended its alliance with Southern Star Amusement, the fledging Louisiana company that had planned to spend more than $150 million on reopening the theme park.
And earlier this week, a Delaware court handling the bankruptcy of Six Flags Inc. agreed to allow the company to terminate its lease with New Orleans under an agreement that calls for New Orleans to receive $3 million in cash, as well as 25-percent of the theme park operator's Hurricane Katrina-related insurance proceeds if the amount exceeds $65 million.
"I couldn't think of anything better for this community right now, " Fielkow said on the proposal. "This is a project that's going to benefit the entire city, and the entire region."
Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said eastern New Orleans residents, who largely expressed support during a community meeting on the plan in August, would particularly benefit from the project's development.
"It couldn't be a better place as far as visibility, as far as drawing other parishes into it, " Clarkson said.
Richard Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org