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Russell Meyer
Writer

Myrtle Beach's Hard Rock Park breaks ground

Published: July 17, 2006 at 11:07 AM

Some may say that a park themed solely around rock music will be nothing more than Rock n' Roller Coaster expanded to a whole-park scale. However, designers of the Hard Rock Theme Park, to open in spring 2008 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, suggest otherwise. Both Steven Goodwin, CEO of HRP Myrtle Beach Operations LLC, and Oliver Munday, Vice President of Hard Rock International feel that the Hard Rock Park will be an "evolution of theme parks," and a place to "showcase some of the finest pieces" of rock memorabilia.

In fact, Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Munday, along with Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, arrived to the groundbreaking ceremony last week in the Beatles Magic Mystery Tour Bus, which will have its permanent home at the park. The three also shoveled Myrtle Beach sand with custom-made Gibson Guitar shovels to officially break ground for the park's construction. Even Bob Hendrix, cousin of Jimi Hendrix and representative of his estate, was on hand to experience the beginning of what could be a very special theme park.

The $400 million park will be built on 150 acres. It is expected to draw an estimated 30,000 visitors per day and create more than 3,000 jobs, and is the largest single investment in South Carolina history. "Mount Rockmore" – a large sculpture created out of sand, gave attendees of the groundbreaking a taste of what guests can expect from the Hard Rock Park, as likenesses of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and Bob Marley presided over the ceremony.

Why build a theme park in Myrtle Beach?

Oliver Munday pointed out to me that Myrtle Beach has an average length of visitor stay that is greater than many tourist destinations in the Unites States, including Orlando. That means that while the millions of visitors to Orlando split their dollars between Disney, Universal, and numerous other destinations, the millions of visitors who visit Myrtle Beach each year will have just one major theme park, along with the typical beach attractions, where they can spend their money. The only difficult task will be to convince families to spend a day or more away from that sand and tantalizing ocean breeze. The lack of competition should help, but can a theme park really be successful just over a mile from one of the most popular beaches on the east coast?

I, along with probably everyone else who visits Theme Park Insider, was most interested in what rides and attractions guests could expect to see in the first major theme park built in the Unites States since Universal's Islands of Adventure debuted in 1999. Much to my chagrin, the Hard Rock Park's designers were rather tight-lipped with details. For more information about parks lands and attractions, including concept art that looks suspiciously like a B&M coaster, visit our Hard Rock Theme Park page.

And let the speculation begin: What happens when you cross a theme park with a Hard Rock Café?

Could we see a 70's Elvis All-You-Can-Eat Buffet restaurant?

How about a Woodstock Mud Wrestling Arena?

What about a dark ride that features animatronic figures incessantly singing #9 from the Beatles White Album?

I highly doubt we'll see anything that cheesy, but it will definitely be a challenging task for park designers to create a rock n' roll theme park that the entire family will find entertaining. I wish the designers the best of luck, and look forward to experiencing the world's first rock n' roll theme park in the spring of 2008.

Replies (24)

TH Creative
Writer

Published: July 17, 2006 at 1:40 PM

Sounds like a very exciting project! But I raised an eyebrow when I read that "It is expected to draw an estimated 30,000 visitors per day."

Quite a lofty goal.

Erik Yates

Published: July 17, 2006 at 1:57 PM

30,000 visitors per day? Seems very steeply inflated to me. They better have some very big deal attractions. Curious, how many visitors per day do the major parks see? I read somewhere on TPI that they are going to have a stairway to heaven coaster? Sounds like they are going for cheese. I'm still up for a "Crossroads" dark ride that tells the story of Robert Johnson and the Hell hound on his trail. I could end with Johnson dying while on the ground barking like a dog. The possibilities are endless with this thing. I just hope they do it right.
Robert Niles
Editor

Published: July 17, 2006 at 2:46 PM

Assuming a nine-month, seven-days operation (March-October), and an average 30,000 visitors per day, the park would draw 8.1 million visitors a year, making it the sixth most popular park in the country, lagging only the four Disney World parks and Disneyland.

That would put the HRP ahead of the Universal Orlando parks and SeaWorld Orlando, despite being in a more northern market.

Looking at the top seasonal parks, Canada's Wonderland and Kings Island do in the mid-three-million range, which on a eight-month, 240-day calendar would average about a touch under 15,000 per day.

Now, if you go weekends only from March-May and September-October, with seven days from June-August -- a more traditional seasonal park sked -- that gives you about a 135-day schedule. At 30,000 per day, that'd give you about four million a year. Ambitious, but if they are looking to lead the seasonal parks, that'd be the goal I'd shoot for.

Personally, I'd think a Myrtle Beach park could operate on more days than that, but clearly those additional days would be lighter attendance than the core summer months and shoulder weekends. So if the park added those days, one would presume the average daily attendance would decline, even as overall attendance increases.

Chris P.

Published: July 17, 2006 at 3:17 PM

I think expecting 30 000 a day is a bit much for a park in this location.

But the park does look interesting, I hope I will have the chance of visiting some day.

Derek Potter

Published: July 17, 2006 at 8:00 PM

Why open a Myrtle Beach theme park? Simple, it's one of the most popular places to go on vacation. I'd pretty much call it the midwestern families destination. It only makes since to cash in on the millions of people who go, and also the fact that there is no competition within a couple hundred miles. My honest opinion? Myrtle Beach is the next Orlando, and once developers see the success of Hard Rock Park, they will line up.

I don't expect this park to be a total theme park like a Disney. Will there be themed attractions? yes, but I'm not setting the bar so high for a 400 million dollar price tag. I do expect a good product though, and I think we will see a mixture of themed attractions and thrill rides, and probably a hotel a couple of years after opening.

30,000 visitors per day is a bit lofty, and while it's not at all out of the question for months like June/July/August, I don't see them maintaining a strong attendance base in the fall months. Most Myrtle Beach attractions curl up and die toward the end of September, and stay that way until around Spring Break the following year...save the holiday season. My prediction? I see a strong 6 million attendance figure for 2008. Thats figuring for an early spring soft opening, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year's events, and a load of ticket deals with different resorts. When Myrtle Beach makes itself a more viable destination during the nonsummer months (and it's working on that) and Hard Rock expands and builds a hotel or two on the property, then we could see those attendance figures go into the 8 million mark. Who knows though, perhaps they will reach those numbers. That would be one crowded park.

TH Creative
Writer

Published: July 18, 2006 at 3:22 AM

Incidently, while lightening may strike and they may well reach their goal 30,000 per day in the park's opening year, I gotta wonder if they could hit those targets after the novelty begins to subside -- five, eight, twelve years after opening.

Make no mistake, however, my fingers are decidedly crossex and I wish them much success!

Mike Duchock

Published: July 18, 2006 at 9:01 AM

First, Russell, your line about the largest investment in SC's history is slightly inaccurate, the press releases from Hard Rock Park states that this is the largest investment in TOURISM infrastructure in the state's history. It's not the largest single overall investment, for instance Charleston just opened a new bridge that cost over $600 million.

This park is going to do extremely well for many years if it capitalizes on two things:

1. Golfers are Gold
While the summer months cater to beach-going families, the other 9 months of the year see millions of golfers flock to the "golf captial of the world." If the park is aiming to be a 12 month operation they need to find a way to coax the golfers away from the courses.

2. Keep the Honeymoon Going
As we all know the honeymoon period for a new park can fade pretty quickly if you don't add any major new rides in the first 5-7 years of operation (take Islands of Adventure for example). If HRP keeps things fresh for the first decade their attendance will stay consistant.

Jake Countiss

Published: July 18, 2006 at 12:04 PM

The Pavillion is gone so their will be almost no competition. And it will be different so it could attract a lot of people.
Patrick Sayre

Published: July 18, 2006 at 12:15 PM

Since we don't really know the particulars of this project it is open to conjecture, but from my point of view this park seems rather undercapitalised. 400Mil really is not that much to build up a new themepark from scratch.

Of course we do not know about land costs or state subsidies that may or may not be involved, but it you look around at other recent new builds a figure closer to 1Bil is more reasonable to do it correctly.

Think about it, they have to create from scratch all the basic infrastructure just to support the projected 30k a day visiting..sewage, parking, traffic control, security, first aid, labor, management,INSURANCE! At start up these can not come out of projected earnings but from capital on hand.

People have said it took Disney close to 1Bil to create California Adventure...on land they already owned and with much of the necessities and know how already in place..and look at what a half assed place it still is.

I fear with only 400Mil in their pockets we are going to be seeing alot of off the shelf carnival rides, piss poor themeing, marginal training and management and maybe one or two off the rack "flagship" rides.

Chris P.

Published: July 18, 2006 at 3:27 PM

^You do make a very strong point. $400 million is a bit low to build a park from scratch. In the artists' rendering of the park, that coaster looks very much like a B & M hyper, and a good B & M hyper, such as Goliath at SFOG, can cost $20 million alone. After loking at the coast of many rides and coasters at various parks, Hard Rock Park, with a $400 million budget, won't have many rides and atractions.
Russell Meyer
Writer

Published: July 18, 2006 at 4:09 PM

Actually at the press event, Governor Sanford stated that it was the largest single private investment in the state's history. The building of a bridge is not investment by private companies, but an investment by the government for its citizens. The $400 million park is the most a single entity has ever pumped into the state's economy at one time.

As far as those who feel that the park will open with very little, look at what Universal did with Islands of Adventure. While IOA was built for twice what this park is being built for, IOA included two hotels, parking garages, and a likely higher price for land. This park is opening initially without a hotel, even though one is on the drawing board, parking lots instead of garages, and on land that probably came pretty cheap considering it housed an abandoned and deteriorating outlet mall. I think at first, the park will be lacking in the ride department, but every park that has opened in the past 20 years has been short on rides. IOA, DAK, MGM, DCA, DSP, and HKDL have all opened with few rides and attractions. It takes time to grow a park, and Hard Rock Park just like every other park will have to grow. Also remember, Disney and Universal spend a lot of time and money on R&D (research and development), hence why both have started cloning attractions to save money. Hard Rock will likely take existing ride systems and spend some money to enhance them to give guests a more complete experience. I don't expect to see any rides in this park that we haven't seen before, but I do expect to see a level of detail and themeing in this park that we see from Universal, Disney, and Busch.

TH Creative
Writer

Published: July 19, 2006 at 3:40 AM

Mr. Meyer writes: "I don't expect to see any rides in this park that we haven't seen before ... "

I Respond: I agree. And, as a result, I also don't expect the HRP to see 30,000 guests a day.

Side note: The artist's renditions on the park page here at TPI have been floating around for some time. They were published in the Orlando Sentinel in 2003.

Derek Potter

Published: July 19, 2006 at 7:16 AM

I agree with TH on the statement that we won't see 30,000 per day. The builders have a high, almost unrealistic expectation of attendance. Will they reach that? I don't think so, but it will still draw big. If the park is done well...even with mostly unthemed rides, the sheer amount of people coming into Myrtle Beach will cover most of the expectations. As stated before, don't expect too much for 400 million, however the success of the park will surely be able to feed future improvement and expansion.
Patrick Sayre

Published: July 19, 2006 at 11:13 AM

Again..ONLY 400Mil.

Russel states that this is because they are opening lean, no hotel, no parking structure, on cheap land. He also states that IOA and Disney spent twice the 400mil amount because they needed more R&D.

Lets just examine this a bit.

Ca.Adventure cost about 1Bil according to rumor and accountant information...and this was on land already paid for decades ago...with R&D carried out by a pre-existing in house staff. Hard Rock will not only have to buy the land and pay for removal and clean up of existing structures and infrastructure(not cheap in this day of asbestos fines)but, as I stated, also create from scratch everything needed..including an R&D deptartment and fund their development activites.

Another thing that worries is the time frame being discussed..less than 24 months. 24 months means that there is very little room for conceptual error. This means everything has to work the first time..no rewrites, no adjustments, no beta locations or mock-ups. Not only is there no time for adjusting, with only 400Mil there is no money.

Do not get me wrong..I wish them well and the concept has potential, I just think they are trying to do it on the cheap and relying on the Hard Rock name alone to get people thru the gates.

J. Dana

Published: July 19, 2006 at 12:58 PM

I'm sure that much of the R&D is already done and paid for at this point, so those costs probably aren't included in the $400 million.

But here are my thoughts on Myrtle Beach...I used to live in South Carolina. Although I'm from Chicago and eventually moved to Florida (post S.C.) I went to high school, college there; my entire immediate family lives there; (I now live in Los Angeles)...Myrtle Beach is not the midwestern families' playground, as has been suggested...EVERYONE who lives in the South will tell you...it's the REDNECK RIVIERA...don't get me wrong. I love rednecks (all my brothers, cousins, etc). And I'm not saying this to besmirch anyone. I'm just trying to explain that Myrtle Beach is MAINLY a locals' hangout (local being the southern states within half a day's driving distance). My friends and I would often drive down for weekends. My family. Everyone I knew. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that it's some huge tourist draw for the midwest, the upper eastern seaboard, etc. When I lived in Chicago, we went to Florida. So did everyone else up there. Myrtle Beach has a long way to go before it snags the Orlando-bound tourists off of I-75/I-85.

THAT BEING SAID, I think Myrtle Beach is long overdue for a theme park like this...who knows, some success by Hard Rock might entice Dollywood to expand to a second southern locale. Myrtle Beach has really grown since my high school days, I know. It's quickly becoming more upscale (especially north Myrtle Beach). HOWEVER, I don't think Myrtle Beach visitors go to Myrtle Beach expecting to pay large amounts of money, whereas Orlando visitors sometimes save for years to afford the ridiculous gouging at the theme parks. Maybe HARD ROCK is the catalyst needed to transform Myrtle Beach from it's weekend-getaway repuation into a week-long destination vacation. How great would it be to develop theme parks and high-level theme attractions along a family beach destination. I think this is GREAT!!!! If Disney/Universal/Busch had any sense, they'd swoop in and buy up some of that cheap South Carolina land and start staking out their own properties. When I think of "the next Orlando," I used to think that Southern California was the only possible candidate. However, I think Myrtle Beach is ripe for that spot.

IF (and this is a big IF), they can attract more than the the weekend day-trippers who spend very little money. And that 30,000 number. RIDICULOUS. Those are Disney/Universal (well, only Disney) numbers.

J. Dana

Published: July 19, 2006 at 1:08 PM

As an addendum, it's highly unlikely (probably completely unlikely) that Disney/Universal would invest in South Carolina, because it's WAAAAY too close to their Florida properties. They know that building a theme park en route to Florida would steal away some of their Florida money. They usually like to build one theme park per country (America is the exception with two, one per coast--we're big and rich). Busch, however, might be convinced to do so. As with Dollywood (more of a regional park). Six Flags is in Georgia.

So, we'll see if this is a catalyst. But for now, let's hope it's just done well.

Mike Duchock

Published: July 19, 2006 at 2:01 PM

Myrtle Beach does'nt have the right climate to be a 12 month destination resort area. It actually does get quite chilly there in January (Avg. high- 57, low 34) and I'm not sure that there is enough seasonal labor to staff multiple theme parks/ attractions given what is already there (outlet malls, small attractions, thousands of Wings beachwear shops).

I can almost assure you that Herschend Family Entertainment (Dollywood's operators) have no plans of building new parks anywhere.

Russell Meyer
Writer

Published: July 19, 2006 at 3:17 PM

Actually, J. Dana, Myrtle Beach is NOT the "weekend getaway" location that many people may think. I always thought of it as that, very much like all of the east coast beaches. However, Gov. Sanford was quick to point out at the groundbreaking that Myrtle Beach has a LONGER average stay length than even Orlando. When he said that, I had to do a double-take, but that is definitely what he said. It's obvious those visitor who come to Myrtle Beach stay more than just a weekend, and truthfully there's quite a bit to do beyond just the beach now. Most importantly, Myrtle Beach has become the unofficial golf capitol of the world with over 100 courses within a few miles, and Augusta National (golf heaven) a couple of hours away. The last time I checked, golf is a sport that costs a lot of money, and if those golfers coming to the region bring their families, those wives and kids will need something to do while daddy plays a few rounds over a the course of a week aside from sunning themselves on the beach.

I would agree that the last, and only time I visited Myrtle Beach about 10 years ago, it was still a "redneck" destination, but I could see it changing then. Just look at the Hard Rock Cafe in Myrtle Beach, which was pretty new what I was last there. It's probably the coolest one on the planet, and quite possible the coolest looking themed restaurant in the world! The place is quickly changing its image, and Hard Rock Park is just another step to making Myrtle Beach more than just a regional tourist destination.

I think everyone's getting hung up on the numbers. Yes, $400 million for an entire theme park sounds low, and a projected 30k visitors a day seems high, but lets not look past the fact that this is the first totally new theme park to be built in the United States in quite some time, and in a completely new and untapped market.

Derek Potter

Published: July 19, 2006 at 7:41 PM

I think that the "Redneck Riviera" stigma was shaken off a long time ago. I've been to Myrtle Beach numerous times over the years, and have seen it transform into a bonafide family destination. Attractions such as Broadway at the Beach and the newer resorts are far from what many would term "redneck". A weeks hotel stay in many of the newer big resorts can cost up to the two grand range for the oceanfronts...and these resorts have everything. I know a few folks who regularly pay that for a weeks stay. During certain summer weeks, it can be a little tough to score a remotely desirable room in any price range. What Myrtle Beach still does have is a lot of family owned resorts who offer good room rates, hence attracting people from all walks of life. There are probably still a lot of weekenders there, but make no mistake, most people now go there to stay for at least 5 days.

This park won't be a 12 month operation, not yet anyway... and I can't see the city not pitching in on some of those basic services that will have to be established. 400 million for a 150 acre park with no hotel is not a bad start at all, so I wouldn't dwell on the figure. It will be a hit.

Robert Niles
Editor

Published: July 19, 2006 at 8:41 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the $1.1 billion figure in Anaheim for the entire Disneyland expansion, including California Adventure, Downtown Disney, the Grand Californian, the Mickey and Friends parking structure, the Disneyland Drive reroute and the esplanade work?

If that was the case, then it might be reasonable to infer that one could get a California Adventure-grade park with around $400 million.

But then, even Disney can't get 30K a day with its California Adventure-grade park, and that's with Disneyland hauling 10+ million visitors within walking distance of that park every year.

J. Dana

Published: July 20, 2006 at 1:06 PM

You are correct, Robert. And I'm not completely sure that that entire $1.1 billion came out of Disney's pocket. I think it also included expenses that the city incurred for things like infrastructure, water and utilities, new roads, new "Garden District" designations, etc. I think that the whole Disneyland area transformation was upwards of $1.1 bil. Although I'm sure that the parking structures, hotels, downtown Disney, etc did set Disney back by close to a billion smackeroos.

I'm also convinced that building a theme park in South Carolina can be done for a FRACTION of the California costs, so maybe we will be getting an impressive park after all...it's just hard to visualize, though, when Disney spends over $100 million on Mission Space alone. How much was everest? Wasn't that even more?

Patrick Sayre

Published: July 20, 2006 at 3:53 PM

As I remember DCA the original budget was over 2Bil..they cut it down to 1.4Bil which as allocated for DCAs 55 acres, The Grand Californian, and the parking structure.

I think there is an old Market Watch article somewhere that pegs the cost of the actual 55 acres of the park itself at about 700Mil.

So even if the number is closer to that 700mil..it was only for 55 aces, not the 140+ that Hard Rock is promising. The remainder of the old 100 acre parking lot was used for downtown Disney, Grand Californian, and the Esplanade.

And look at the pitiful mess that 700 got Disney. How much more did they spend to bring in ToT? 75-100Mil? As J. Dana says Disney spent 100Mil on Mission Space, IOA spent over that for Spiderman. So we can assume that there will be no big star attraction in this park.

We must also keep in mind that Disney has been doing this for ever, and knows how to maximize every cent. HR will have one heck of a steep learning cuve, and I see massive cost over runs if they DO decide to do it right, and pure carnival cheese should they try to stay on such a tiny budget.

And, we are all correct in that there is just no way they will see 30K Visitors a day. The area is NOT a National/International tourist Mecca, the areas Median Income and population density are lower than you find in S.Cal which means fewer people with fewer bucks for that $40-60 ticket.

In some ways things are beginning to make more sense to me now. the 30K a day visitor estimate is pure Marketing fluff meant to get attention..as it surely has.

The 400Mil tells us the REAL story, that figure was the most the bean counters would give based upon ROI projections, which I am sure is based upon far more realistic attendance figures and per person spending projections, anymore and the thing simply would not pencil out.

So I think what we will now get is something akin to a six flags Amusement park with some Rock and ROll themes, rather than a Disney-esque Theme Park like the Marketing hacks would like us to believe.

And as I said before..I wish them well and if I am ever rolling through SC I'll stop by, but unless we are very very wrong I won't be changing my Orlando or Anaheim plans anytime soon.

Russell Meyer
Writer

Published: July 20, 2006 at 4:40 PM

I just would like to make a couple of clarifications brought to me attention by those who are more knowledgable than I about this project.

1. The 30,000 visitors a day is noted in the press release as "up to 30,000..." That means that park designers do not expect the park to draw an average of 30k per day, but they do expect the park to be able to draw up to that amount of visitors per day. That means 30,000 is the park's capacity and/or what the park would expect to draw on busy weekends and holidays.

2. The $400 million, which everyone seems to be getting stuck on, is for a park built on land that has already been developed. The location of the park in on land that formerly served as an outlet mall. The land already has infrastructure (electricity, sewer, water, and more than adequite storm drainage), and park designers are planning on using a number of the existing structures for service buildings, storage, etc...

I think the only reason the park's cost was released was because of the size of the investment in the state of South Carolina. The state is very proud of this investment, and hopes this is a sign of things to come for Myrtle Beach and the rest of the state. Most theme parks avoid releasing financial figures and balance sheets, so lets not jump to conclusions when assuming this theme park will be underfunded.

Pete Brecht

Published: July 20, 2006 at 7:19 PM

Some of you folks seem to think that there's no middle ground between Six Flags and Disney; there is, and it's called "Busch". None of the Busch parks have anything nearly as expensive as Mission:Space or Spiderman, yet they're still well-themed parks that appeal to a wide variety of people.

$400 million just for the rides and theming (since the land and most of the infrastructure is not included in that figure) sounds like potentially a pretty good park to me.

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