by Yasmin Garaard

Optimus Entertainment, a multimillion-dollar entertainment complex, opened in New Orleans East in early February. The indoor amusement center, located in a newly renovated outlet near New Orleans East Hospital and East New Orleans Regional Library, includes a 12-seat, 12-D interactive theater, virtual reality gaming, two laser tag arenas, bumper cars, and six-party rooms available for parties and corporate events. 

The new entertainment venue brings hope to a community that many say has been forgotten. New Orleans East suffered tremendously in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and continues to bear the burden of rebuilding efforts. With abandoned lots and the lack of commercial businesses and food chains, residents’ frustrations have risen. 

But District E Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen says she will continue to take steps to put residents and rebuilding first, promising opportunity zones – designed to help struggling communities with economic developments by providing tax benefits. Economic development is the necessary next step to providing jobs and growth, she says.

“There is an economic development buzz that’s taking place in district E. Developers are contacting our office about doing business in the district. The Caveman Hotel is being restored on Chef Menteur Highway and Iriapak (an international company that specializes in packaging products) is opening a plastic packaging factory in the Industrial Park,” says Nguyen. “This district is coming back. I want to give the residents hope in the future of District E.” 

In a statement published on social media regarding the city’s approval of Industrial Tax Exemption Program or ITEP to attract businesses like Iriapak to the East, Mayor Cantrell said, “Iriapak…is set to create up to 25 high-quality jobs, and continue the drumbeat of investment in the East and in the Regional Business Park, which has seen the recent opening of Crescent Crown and Dixie Brewery. The incentive comes with the much-needed provision that living-wage jobs will be created that pay at least $18 an hour for our residents.”

The project’s planned 25 jobs is expected to generate an annual payroll of expects a payroll of $925,000, exceeding the the minimum five jobs and $225,000 payroll thresholds required for an ITEP. 

Construction is expected to begin by early March 2020.

Along with efforts to attract new businesses, Nguyen and New Orleans East residents have taken other steps to restore New Orleans East by creating opportunities to bring residents and visitors to events in the area.

The Krewe of Nefertiti held its inaugural parade in New Orleans East on Sunday, Feb. 9, marking the first time a Mardi Gras parade has rolled on the streets of New Orleans East since 1992. Based in New Orleans East, the all-female krewe founded in 2018 aims to cultivate the community through volunteer service and fundraising. 

“The Krewe of Nefertiti parade was a huge success,” says Nguyen. “Hundreds of parade-goers were in attendance to watch the beautifully decorated floats and the marching bands. I’ve received positive comments from people about the success of the parade. I encourage other krewes to join Nefertiti and role their Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans East, where family comes first. Now that we have Optimus Entertainment, a state of the art entertainment center, which opened on Feb. 10, 2020, parade-goers can take their families there after the parade. You can spend hours in the 24,000 square foot facility riding the bumper cars, playing laser tag and virtual reality games. The food is amazing and there’s a 12-D interactive theater, it’s a phenomenal experience!” 

In 2018, Nguyen revived the annual holiday parade in the New Orleans East, with a parade route that rolls along main thoroughfares to encourage residents and visitors to support existing businesses.

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