A proposal by the owner of Tipitina’s and the Orpheum Theater to turn the abandoned Bally’s casino dock and administration building on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans East into an outdoor music venue and water park is under consideration by the state board that controls the site.
The Louisiana Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority is in the “early stages” of reviewing the plan and negotiating a lease with Tipitina’s Foundation co-founder Roland Von Kurnatowski and his business partner, Eric George, that would revive an area of the lakefront that has been left vacant for nearly 10 years.
“It’s a very serious bid,” Management Authority Chairman Greg Ernst said. “And we are in the very early stages of negotiating a lease.”
The development team, operating as Studio Network-Lakefront LLC, has proposed constructing Tipitina’s Festival Park at the site.
The outdoor amphitheater would hold 5,000 people and host live music performances.
Under the plan, the park would be surrounded by a number of other developments including a promenade with restaurants and shops; a water park with zip lines, water slides and a “lazy river”; a fuel dock and marina supply shop; and an open-air community market. The latter would be housed inside a modified version of an existing building.
The venue would be operated by Fontainbleu Management/Tipitina’s Development LLC, which lists Von Kurnatowski as its managing member.
In its proposal, the development team said it wants to create a “unique cultural destination” that would both stand on its own and provide an economic boost to the nearby “underutilized” New Orleans Lakefront Airport and South Shore Harbor Marina.
“This will be achieved through the tailoring of events and cultural activities that rely on, and further stimulate demand for, those facilities and their services,” the proposal says. “An example would be a unique targeted concert, coupled with before and after workshops, mixers, net-casts, interviews, etc., that attract aviation and marine enthusiasts on a regional basis.”
The proposal does not include a timeline or a projected cost of development. It also does not explain how the project would be paid for.
The proposal was submitted in response to a July request for proposals from the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority, a political subdivision created in 2010 to manage and control assets of the Orleans Levee District that are not related to flood protection.
The authority sought proposals to redevelop about 4.5 acres of lakefront property as well as the nearly 30,000-square-foot South Shore Harbor Marina terminal building. The building was part of the operation of the Bally’s Riverboat Casino until the boat, now called the Amelia Belle, relocated to St. Mary Parish after Hurricane Katrina. The space has been vacant since then.
In its request, the authority asked for responses that would “maximize the former Bally’s terminal building site … in such a way that its occupancy will be consistent with current operations of the South Shore Harbor Marina.”
The RFP didn’t provide any further guidance on what the authority wanted to see developed at the site. The amphitheater proposal was the lone response.
“We really didn’t know what to expect,” Ernst said. “But in my opinion, the proposal by Mr. Von Kurnatowski has exceeded our expectations with his vision for what the site could be used for.”
In November, the Management Authority authorized its staff and a real estate consultant to evaluate the proposal and possibly draft an agreement for the site’s development, Ernst said. The agreement would have to be approved by the authority’s Real Estate Committee and then the full board before being signed by both parties.
Studio Network has proposed a 50-year lease, with a one-time option to renew for another 50 years. The developer has proposed a monthly rent of $5,000 during the construction phase, growing to $10,000 per month in the venue’s first year of operation. Rent would then grow to $12,000 and $14,000 in the second and third years of operation. After the third year, the developer has proposed paying a base rent of $14,000 plus 1.15 percent of gross revenue.
Any improvements made to the site would revert back to the control of the Orleans Levee District at the expiration or termination of the lease, according to the proposal.
The authority can accept, reject or counter that offer, said Eugene Green, who leads the authority’s Real Estate Committee.
Besides its financial terms, Green said, the proposal will be evaluated on its benefit to the community, its impact on the environment and the experience of the development team.
On the latter point, the development team lists the renovation of the Sears building in Shreveport and the restoration of the Orpheum Theater as past experience. Von Kurnatowski and George purchased the theater last year and are planning to reopen it in the fall in time for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s next season. Von Kurnatowski’s 18 years running Tipitina’s and producing various music events also are listed as experience.
Green said the staff and the real estate expert have not been given a deadline to submit an agreement.
“We’re not actually putting undue pressure on staff,” Green said. “We certainly recognize that if this could happen it would be an incredible project, but that space has been vacant since Bally’s left. There’s no rush to get it filled. We just want to make sure we get it right.”