Tip's South Shore Harbor proposal. - NEW ORLEANS SAILING

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Tipitina'a Festival Park at South Shore Harbor

currently under construction

A 5,000 capacity amphitheater concert venue, water park, zip lines, covered boardwalk and outdoor market at the former location of the Bally's Riverboat Casino at South Shore Harbor east of Lakefront Airport. Damaged in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina and never reopened, the entrance building has lurked for 10 years, vacant, neglected and in disrepair.



A pair of local NOLA developers, headed by the owner of Tipitina's, are negotiating a deal in pursuit of a lease of the lakefront property with the intention of constructing a 4.5 acre water park and concert/festival venue.

Here are a few post-Hurricane Katrina photos and recent pics of the site....

    The development would sit on the site of the old Bally's riverboat casino landing in eastern New Orleans. The Orleans Parish Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Board, which owns the land, is negotiating lease terms with Studio Network-Lakefront LLC, a company formed by Tipitina's owner Roland von Kurnatowski and his business partner, Dr. Eric George, a prominent New Orleans orthopedic surgeon. It's the same duo that bought the Orpheum Theater last year for $1.5 million, vowing to invest another $13 million and return it to its former glory. A string of previous owners failed to put the historic building to rights, but the new owners have renovations well underway, and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra has inked a deal to return to the theater, which is scheduled to open later this year.

    Studio Network's proposal for the lakefront, dubbed Tipitina's Festival Park, would include an outdoor amphitheater with a 5,000 capacity, lazy river and splash park, water slides and zip lines along with a two-story, covered boardwalk and shops and conversion of the old riverboat terminal into an open-air market. The site sits just east of the Lakefront Airport complex and the South Shore Harbor, which are also owned by the authority. The property has languished, vacant and largely unused, since Bally's ceased operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Von Kurnatowski said that he has not yet begun to seek out financing for the project. "This is still early days," he said. "The first step is coming to an agreement on the lease."

    The Tipitina's proposal, if realized, would be a godsend for the surrounding area and the Management Authority, said Greg Ernst, the board's chairman. The lease would be the largest since it was set up in 2010. "I think everyone is just really excited, when you think about the type of impact a development like this could have on the area around there," Ernst said. "It looks wonderful."

    Any development would be a step up for the site. When Katrina gutted the riverboat terminal and left the property in shambles, Bally's terminated its lease and left the land in the hands of the governor's office, which took over management of the Orleans Levee Board's vast real-estate holdings in 2006. When those properties were returned to local control with the 2010 creation of the authority, the Bally's parcel was just one in a long list of battered assets that the newly-created entity, which lacks tax-funding, was incapable of repairing and returning to commerce on its own. Last year, the authority decided to let the private sector have a go, issuing a request for development proposals....

Studio Network's proposal was the only submittal.

    The authority voted in November to enter into lease negotiations with the company. Those negotiations are in their early stages, and both sides stressed that many details remain to be hammered out, but they expressed cautious optimism that they would be able to come to terms. Studio Network's bid includes a hypothetical rent of $5,000 per month during the project's construction, with rent rising incrementally for three years, after which the company would pay $14,000 per month plus 1.15 percent of gross revenue, though those terms are non binding. The actual deal, if inked, could vary significantly. To put that into perspective, the authority earns only about $43,000 per month from the entire South Shore Harbor, a marina with slips for 479 boats, according to the authority's budget.

    The authority might never have gotten a response if von Kurnatowski weren't an avid pilot, giving him cause to drive past the property on a regular basis on his way to Lakefront Airport. "I just thought it was such a shame that an asset like that was sitting unused," said von Kurnatowski. He thought about the memories he'd made as a kid at Pontchartrain Beach before it closed and wondered if the old Bally's site could be transformed into a place where future generations could make memories of their own. Eventually, he called the authority's offices to ask about the property and found out about the request for development proposals. Seeing his chance, von Kurnatowski came up with the idea for the Festival Park and hired architects to draw up concept plans.

    Best known as the owner of Tipitina's and his involvement in the Tipitina's Foundation, a charity focused on developing and preserving Louisiana's musical heritage, von Kurnatowski has never been involved in such an ambitious development project. He does have some experience that could help him if the project moves forward. Von Kurnatowski has deep ties to the New Orleans music and entertainment world, which he can leverage to attract acts and market shows at the outdoor concert venue, the project's anchor. Von Kurnatowski also has a track record of success in the world of real estate as the head of Fountainbleu Management, which owns and manages more than two dozen apartment complexes across five sates. He has also redeveloped a trio of historic properties in downtown Shreveport.

  Von Kurnatowski said that the project remain's "conceptual" at this point, so it would be premature to discuss the particulars of the business model and its potential revenue streams. However, he said, he's serious about the project and has every intention of following through if the lease can be worked out.

"This is a community based resource and asset that is underutilized and that's a shame," he said.

"It should be brought along and nurtured. If we can do it...we are going to do it."

r e p o r t e r

Robert McClendon, NOLA.com

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