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Louisiana Man Proposes New Theme Park


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Lafourche man floats theme-park proposal

 

HOUMA — When it comes to fun, Jeff Hensley is getting serious.

 

The California native and Raceland resident has spent two years developing a plan for a modest theme park in the Houma area, and says he’s ready to get the $60 million effort started.

 

He envisions a 50-acre project with a wooden roller coaster, metal roller coaster, planetarium and themed attractions based on Cajun pirates and Western bandits, complete with stunt shows and special events. The park is part of an attempt to cater to local families, give youngsters more to do and help build the area economy by creating about 300 jobs and attracting tourism. The target opening date is April 2012.

 

“We’re starting out small,” he said. “We’re going to be the nice, fun small park.”

 

Hensley is a 15-year veteran of the amusement park business. He’s from southern California and started working for Disney at 17, working in concessions, shops and rides. He also supervised ride operations at the now-defunct Jazzland in New Orleans. Since he moved to Lafourche in 2000 with his wife, a Larose native, he’s been an online radio DJ and taught circus skills at the South Louisiana Center of the Arts. He’s also tried to support a local drum and bugle corps.

 

But as a father of two children, 10 and 12, Hensley sees a void for fun stuff for kids. His intent is for the rides and park to be designed for the whole family, not just for dropping teenagers off at the door. His aim is to build it in Terrebonne off U.S. 90.

 

“Houma and Thibodaux are both growing,” he said. “There’s nothing like this in the area. We’re trying to do something in a different style.”

 

He plans to get financing from state GO Zone Bonds, which lend money for projects to spur investment in areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He has yet to book an appointment with the Bond Commission, which oversees such financing.

 

Recent hurricanes have taken a toll on larger-scale amusement options. Jazzland, the New Orleans theme park taken over by Six Flags, flooded during Katrina and was afterward plagued by disputes between the company and local government. No investor has emerged to reopen it.

 

Houma’s longtime water park, Waterland USA, was built in 1987 but damaged severely by Hurricane Gustav. It stayed closed after the storm and was demolished last fall.

 

Blue Bayou Waterpark and Dixie Landin’ near Baton Rouge remains one of the only large-scale options for families.

 

For that reason, Hensley is optimistic the park could attract families from New Orleans, Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes, hopefully several thousand per day.

 

“It’s going to help the whole area,” he said. “It’s definitely going to stir the economy.”

 

Rather than the bigger, more expensive Six Flag parks, Hensley said the smaller size will be better suited to the market and more palatable to investors. If successful, the park can grow along with the community, he said.

 

Besides the roller coasters, he also plans go-karts, train and boat rides and a planetarium that can be used both for educational presentations about the night sky as well as high-tech 3-D shows. He also foresees an amphitheater that can fit 1,500 to 2,000 people and host stunt shows and other special events.

 

Other attractions would include spooky shows and stunts for Halloween and special events for Christmas, including a craft market. It would be a good source of employment for college students and retirees, and Hensley intends to pay the park workers above minimum wage.

 

He’s not trying to get rich from the project, but help serve and give back to the community, he says.

 

Hensley said he has completed much of his hiring for department heads, but is still looking for investors and sponsors.

 

Michelle Edwards is marketing director for the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority, a local economic-development group. She said Hensley has not yet told the group about his proposal, but the project speaks to an obvious need.

 

“There’s not a lot of family-oriented and wholesome things for kids to do,” she said. “It’s a great idea.”

 

The Houma area attracts plenty of people from surrounding parishes for work and shopping, but the right amusement park could bring different groups of tourists.

 

One trick will be securing the financing in a tough economy. It’s also key to make sure the project is a good fit for customer demand, said John Gerner, managing director with Leisure Business Advisors of Richmond, Va., a national consultant for amusement parks.

 

“He’s got the right idea looking at something small,” he said. “What’s important is being the right size for the market.”

 

The present recession is a concern, but not necessarily prohibitive.

 

“Attractions are affected by the economy. They do tend to suffer,” he said. “But often new attractions are planned when the economy is not going well, with the idea of being open when economy is rebounding.”

 

www.dailycomet.com/article/20100822/ARTICLES/100829843/1214?p=all&tc=pgall

 

This would be great if it were actually to open. Hopefully, this guy picks a great place for this park because we all know Six Flags New Orleans didn't do so well because of its New Orleans East location. This proposed park would be great if a water park would be in the design.

 

Houma, Louisiana is about an hour and thirty minutes away from the former Six Flags New Orleans.

 

EDIT: Here's a very cheap, quickly done website, but at least it's something of Big Fun Park (proposed Houma park) bigfunpark.com/index.html

Edited by astroworldfan1
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It's a risky proposition weather-wise (to an untrained eye like mine, I guess) if you look at what happened to SFNO. Of course, I don't know if there is a chance for that sort of thing to happen as far inland as this park is proposed. I suppose it's just as risky as building parks like Knott's and Nagashima Spaland in earth-quake prone areas.

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I have been very overwhelmed with an outcry of thank you's for getting this park up and off the ground.

 

First, let me say that I love this site and have checked it out for many years. (I think I even worked with Robb once or twice at Disneyland, but that's another story...)

 

Secondly, myself and others have been planning this for years now. We have picked out several locations that will work well, with our number one spot being easily seen and very easy to get to from Highway 90, one of the major routes to and from New Orleans.

 

We know that the weather here is very unbearable at times, so we have planned all we can into keeping guests out of the sun and either into buildings, or under sail-cloth or some other kind of awnings. And there will be plenty if misters and fans to go around.

 

There are a lot of top secret things I can't discuss yet about the park, but I can say that we have our funding, and we are currently seeking sponsors for some of the rides.

 

Some things I can say are:

- we will be open year-round

- we will offer a couple different coasters in the park, including a wooden roller coaster

- we will offer a special "Halloween event" like most parks do.

- we will offer special deals to to CLUB TPR Members!

 

If you have any questions, feel free to send them to me at jeff@bigfunpark.com or write them here. I can answer questions, but I won't reply to statements like "you know what you need to put in the park...". I feel those kinds of statements are rude.

 

I look forward to opening the park and seeing you all there!

 

-Jeff Hensley

-Owner / CEO Big Fun Theme Park

 

-ps. By the way, both the name Big Fun Theme Park and the website, www.bigfunpark.com, are just placeholders. We plan on having a contest and letting the public choose the name for the park!

 

-pss. And Robb, I will make sure we have a Vault ICEE Machine somewhere in the park just for you!

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It's a risky proposition weather-wise (to an untrained eye like mine, I guess) if you look at what happened to SFNO. Of course, I don't know if there is a chance for that sort of thing to happen as far inland as this park is proposed. I suppose it's just as risky as building parks like Knott's and Nagashima Spaland in earth-quake prone areas.

 

You are going to be in disaster prone areas no matter where you are. Here in the midwest, we have frequent tornadoes, but things still get built. Look at Six Flags over Texas, Frontier City, Six Flags St. Louis... All GREAT examples. SoCal is an earthquake zone, and that whole area is a mecca. Disney World is on a peninsula in the ocean. They get lots of hurricanes every year. SFNO was hit by a disaster but that is very rare. The odds of it happening again are slim to none.

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Best of luck with this Jeff! If it is successful I would love to see you do this in Northern Illinois and replace Kiddyland.

 

We have planned about 3 phases in the park, before we get to creating another park in another state, but we are looking into other states and trying to identify needs. But, in all honesty, if we went to another area, it probably wouldn't be until another 5-6 years from now.

 

All I can say is, look for things to be in this park that you don't expect! This isn't a kiddie park we're building, or a park with thrillseekers and teens as their only audience. We're first and foremost focusing on families. Now, that doesn't mean we won't have thrill rides, but the objective is to provide a fun destination for the whole family.

 

Above all, we have done our research, and will bring to the area a very unique Theme Park that will bring in the crowds!

 

- Jeff Hensley

jeff@bigfunpark.com

 

ps. I will try to check-in to this thread once a week or so, and try to get to everyone's question when I can!

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Jeff,

 

I will be the first to say that I think what you are proposing is going to come with some huge challenges to make a success. But...if you have a strong business plan and a sound idea that can work, TPR is behind you 100%!

 

My advice to you would be to take a very close look at some big projects that failed (Hard Rock Park) as well as some smaller projects (Wild West World) and don't let history repeat itself.

 

Keep us posted on TPR about the progress, let us know what you need from us, and we absolutely wish you all the luck in the world and hope you can bring this project into reality.

 

--Robb

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I was able to interview Jeff Hensley this evening, and I just put the post up now with the audio file attached. You can click here to go to the site, and check out some of the highlights below. I will say that I'm pretty confident in his ability to get this project off the ground, he has a lot of good ideas and a lot of business savvy to go with it. Some main points:

 

-He plans to start with fifteen rides, including one roller coaster (a woodie from a great coaster company) and a myriad of flat rides. Hensley also has plans for a few shows, a planetarium, and a 3,000 seat auditorium that can be opened to the public for special concerts as well as house specific park guest only shows.

 

-He likes what S&S has to offer coaster-wise, so they are on his shortlist for future expansions, roller coaster wise.

 

-He wants to keep it affordable and green. Hensley wants to put a huge emphasis on reusable cups (which he plans to sell for a real bargain, around $7 a cup with $1 refills), digitizing on-ride photos, and reducing paper waste. He’ll keep the admission cost down, and find clever ways to cut spending without cutting services.

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^Somebody needs to do that asap.

[if only because there is a glut of places where that ride could find a great home.]

 

I thought many places handled a lot on-ride photos digitally (like a CD-ROM, downloads to your phone or some other means of digital access.) Does he mean to actually get rid of the physical souvenir portraits and other junk?

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Why is no one else opening a them park in Toronto?, with Canada's Wonderlands high success and attendance you'd think someone else would take advantage?? Everything business wise tends to do better in Canada then the States recently due to our Government and Banks holding us out of that recession, and minimum wage being $10.25 an hour.

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Hi everyone,

 

Just wanted to say that we have a new website up at www.louisianathemepark.com

 

and you can search for us on Facebook at Louisiana Theme Park.

 

 

Again, I want to say thank you for everyone who has sent encouragement and support our way. This is a very daunting task, but so far everything is falling in to place. We are looking to finish raising all the necessary funds for the bonds we will be getting soon, and then moving on to permits and breaking ground!

 

We'll do our best to keep everyone posted on what's going on. thank you again for all the ideas!

 

- Jeff Hensley

owner / ceo Louisiana Theme Park

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Man, that's so cool. Good luck! If there's one thing I'd pass along from Hard Rock park's failure it's that people wanted water rides, and that park didn't have them. And maybe a Mega-lite?

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I'm really excited about this project. So is there anything new since the last time anythings been posted? Of course you've been wanting ideas for the woodie, but anything else? By the way, if you were to ever make another park, please come to Indianapolis, we need one bad!

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So far we are working with our investor to determine just how big we will start with. Whether it will just be a Theme Park and Hotel or if we will open more. But things are looking up!

 

Good luck with the project, Jeff...it must be very exciting to imagine all of the possibilities! But as Robb pointed out, there are lot's of high risks and sacrifices that will need to be made and lessons learned from some of the other failed park ventures in recent years.

 

Although I am no expert in the biz, I think you seem to be headed in the right direction with your plans as far as offering something for everyone and making it a family oriented, reasonably priced destination. Bring in the families with reasonably priced tickets, various special offers, cleanliness and a fun, friendly staff and you should do quite well!

 

One suggestion that I would make is to possibly have a campground nearby (if there isn't already one) or have one connected to the park? A lot of the parks with campgrounds very close-by (or attached) that I have frequented during the past few years (Cedar Point, Knoebel's, Waldameer, Hershey) all seem to do very good business. Some get so busy that they advise you to make your reservations one year in advance for weekends! With so many families on tighter budgets these days, there seems to be a rise in families that are going back to basics and are looking for a cheaper alternative than staying at a fancy themed hotel or an overpriced chain hotel down the street.

 

Being from a family that always prefers camping, I know it's kind of a drag when the nearest campground to a theme park is ten to twenty miles away (CW, Lake Compounce, Kings Island, SFGA to name a few). Many families would prefer it if it was a close jaunt back to their campsites where they could cook their own meals or just relax for a bit if they choose.

 

Of course with the heat and humidity of the South it might be a little unbearable in the summer, so that would be one of the various risks to weigh. But having water themed attractions (pools, waterslides, or a water playground) at the campground or in the park could alleviate that problem!

 

Again, best of luck to you as you forge onward. I will be checking the updates & website to view progress and would definitely stop for a visit if I am ever in Louisiana!

 

 

-Phil

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Why is no one else opening a them park in Toronto?, with Canada's Wonderlands high success and attendance you'd think someone else would take advantage?? Everything business wise tends to do better in Canada then the States recently due to our Government and Banks holding us out of that recession, and minimum wage being $10.25 an hour.

Because unless someone can find enough investors to make a park better than Canada's Wonderland right off the bat, they will have a hard time surviving in the Toronto market.

Not to mention, they'd have to build their park further from Toronto, meaning people would have to drive longer to get there.

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