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A buyer for Hard Rock Park, after all? *

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Published: February 10, 2009 at 7:39 PM

It looks like Hard Rock Park might be saved from the theme park graveyard, after all.

A group of investors, calling themselves FPI MB Entertainment, has put down $2.3 million toward a $25 million purchase of the bankrupt and shuttered Myrtle Beach theme park.

The Sun News in Myrtle Beach this evening quotes court documents saying that the new owners want to reopen the park by Memorial Day.

Of course, the new owners need to arrange financing to borrow the bulk of the purchase price which, in this economy, is hardly a sure thing. But they've put money down and have a deal with the court, so that's the most encouraging news Hard Rock Park fans (both of you -- okay, kidding...) have heard in months.

Update: From an FPI Entertainment press release:

FPI MBE is a group whose members collectively have more than 100 years in the attractions and entertainment industry and are committed to the successful reopening and operation of the Hard Rock Park. Members of FPI MBE include Freestyle Park International, a division of MT Development of Moscow; Roundbox Advisors; and a group of local Myrtle Beach, S.C. area investors. A world-renowned theme park management company has been retained to manage the operations of the park.

That's all there is. The release said that they are not taking questions until after the sale closes.

* Update 2: (Robert does some Googling...) Here's some information about Freestyle Park in Moscow. MT's partner on that is Baker Leisure Group, from Orlando. Steve Baker is the former Epcot World Showcase manager who left Disney in 1998 1988 to form his own themed entertainment management company -- whose first client was (wait for it) the Hard Rock Cafe.

Readers' Opinions

From steve lee on February 10, 2009 at 8:42 PM
Snarky Robert is snarky (two fans. LOL)

This is potentially great news. If the new owners paid attention to all the mistakes the previous owners made, they shouldn't have too much difficulty recouping their investment and then some.

If they want to reopen as soon as Memorial Day, does that mean they want to retain the Hard Rock Park branding? It seems to me like there's a lot they'd have to change if they were planning on dropping the brand...

Best of luck to the new owners (assuming the deal goes through). If they need any help figuring out how the last folks screwed up, feel free to register here on TPI and start a thread...

From James Rao on February 10, 2009 at 8:47 PM
Great news! I just hope things work out. I would love to hit Hard Rock and will make every effort to do so this year if at all possible.

And Steve, your suggestion about starting a thread on TPI for advice...hilarious...but in a way, so true! I DO think we could help! ;)

From Robert Niles on February 10, 2009 at 8:58 PM
This throws a wrench into my summer roadtrip plans. I had planned DC -> BGE -> Dollywood -> Orlando, but now I'll have to throw HRP into that mix if it reopens.
From steve lee on February 10, 2009 at 9:00 PM
Well, James, last year we had the "investor" in the park telling us we were all a bunch of idiots who didn't understand the business. See how well that worked out for them...

But I say that with tongue firmly planted in cheek. What the creators of the park accomplished is really something. But they didn't seem to have an ability to change their game plan when it seemed like things were going south. They were slow to make changes that would have brought more money into the park, and that pigheadedness was the key to their undoing.

From Robert Niles on February 10, 2009 at 10:02 PM
This year is all about market share. If you try to make your money back on full-price admissions this year, you're done.

My suggestions for key promotions for HRP in 2009:

- Buy one day at full adult price, get the rest of the 2009 season for free [holidays blacked out].

- Offer an annual pass [next 12 months from purchase] at twice the full daily adult price, which includes free parking, 15 percent dining and merchandise discounts and no black-out dates.

- One-day tickets sold wholesale, 70 percent off face, to local hotels for the hotels to resell to their guests at half-off face. Hotel pockets the difference. [Guests can upgrade to 'rest of the season free' at the park for the extra 50 percent.]

- Kids (under 10) tickets at $10 each for one-day. $20 for the year. [No AP benefits, though.]

- TV and radio ad campaign in all markets bounded by Washington to Atlanta to Jacksonville.

- Online ad campaign for rest of the country.

- Adjust one-day adult price online as attendance dictates. [Keep it the same at the booth all summer, though.] Advertise online price cuts with instant online ad campaigns.

- Online vacation give-aways, in cooperation with Myrtle Beach tourism groups. Use the contest to build an online database of potential visitors for e-mail marketing.

From James Rao on February 11, 2009 at 5:15 AM
One thing the new park owners will need to resist is the urge to plop down a bunch of off-the-shelf midway rides to beef up their offerings. I know money is tight, but I for one will not make the trip if the ride quotient is upped by simply adding a bunch of spinners and flat rides that can be found at any amusement park (or county fair) in the nation. Narrative and theming must be considered - even though it is often more expensive. If HRP wants to become a true vacation destination, then creating story-driven, rock and roll experiences is a must (provided they keep their current overall theme). Maybe the new mgmt team can hire consultants from Disney and Universal for advice?

Or, post a thread on TPI...as Steve has said, we're here to help!

From Joshua Counsil on February 11, 2009 at 7:58 AM
FPI MB Entertainment ... ha, just like how Walt used fake aliases (or is this a legitimate company? - couldn't find any information on them).

What do you think the acronym stands for?

From Robert Niles on February 11, 2009 at 8:28 AM
I, for one, thank the heavens that they picked the initial letter "F" and not "T." I don't think could have handled the rumor mill had that happened. :-)

I suspect the MB stands for "Myrtle Beach." Guessing the other letters are the main players' last names.

From Gareth H on February 11, 2009 at 10:15 AM
If a parks that desperate for attendance, theres no harm in offering free entry if, say, the guest was forced to buy a $50, in park, gift card, to be used on food, drinks or souvenirs, per person.

People spend money in the park anyway, and thats the main profit maker (Jacked up soda prices, etc).

Gets the numbers in, people spread the word, option to buy an annual pass at the cost oof one day of entry, etc.

This is why Seaworld, busch, etc, offer the fun pass. f you didn't pay to get in on that day, you have more money to spend in the parks on stuff you wouldn't normally buy.

Get promotion too, free local (And National) press coverage of free days, word of mouth advertising.

Yes, it may seem stupid to let people in for free, but if you are offering people a deal they just can't refuse, they are moore than likely going to go.

Look at Universal Superbowl deal.
How many people will make the trip there just because its free to get in? And when they do, they spend like crazy inside.

From James Rao on February 11, 2009 at 12:55 PM
After those updates all I can say is: The Plot Thickens...
From Jason Williams on February 11, 2009 at 2:06 PM
I would be one of the 2 people Robert was talking about, so this is great news for me. I'm really excited to see what this company can do with the park, provided the deal does go through.

The two main things the park needs to do is lower ticket prices and work with local companies. Quite a few discounts have been mentioned, but I don't think they should (or will) go for 'buy 1 full price adult ticket and get the rest of the 2009 season free with holidays blacked out.' I think it would be better if they had a deal where if you buy 1 full price ticket you get as many more visits during your vacation free (including parking). I also don't think they should offer annual passes at twice the daily rate, it should not be somewhere between $90-120 and include parking and discounts on food and merchandise within the park.

All good ideas though, and hopefully this company can work things out and be successful. They just have to remember to work with local companies and have a creative (and effective) marketing strategy; unlike, the previous owners with the 'Winston for President' deal.

From steve lee on February 11, 2009 at 2:59 PM
James, I completely understand your aversion to "midway-style" rides, but I honestly think that may be a really solid short-term solution. One of the chief complaints about the park is that there wasn't enough attractions. If they want to reopen the park in three months, they're going to have to do something to correct that problem. It's logistically impossible to get anything major in that time, so I think the only fix is to bring in three or four flat rides to temporarily fill the gap.

Note that I said "temporarily." They need to be added to provide a little more to do, but once the park gets back on its feet they need to start making plans to get those temporary rides out (or get them themed up and make them permanent).

From James Rao on February 11, 2009 at 4:11 PM
Steve, I understand what you're saying, but I am not traveling halfway across the nation to ride a roundup or a scrambler. I want to support the park, but they need to remain on the high ground as much as possible...the promise of future greatness (in 2010 - 11) would be enough to keep me interested. They should do like Disney is doing with DCA and begin construction, but include a preview center with the expansion plans to keep people excited. No sense wasting any money on temporary fixes...

And if the new investors can't afford to take a financial hit for the next two or three years while they beef up the attraction quantity (and maintain the quality), then they shouldn't even be offering to make the purchase.

From Robert Niles on February 11, 2009 at 4:00 PM
I'd rather see new live musical shows than midway rides, as a supplement to the current line-up. It's hard to remove a ride once it's installed. And it's harder to recast a park's reputation for a specific type of attraction once that's cast. If HRP ever wants to be a premium theme park destination, it must avoid the cheap midway ride "solution."
From steve lee on February 11, 2009 at 5:32 PM
Well, Robert, the park has already had its identity made as the park that couldn't survive six months. Let's get them out of that hole first.

Of course, all this talk of what thematically works may be entirely academic. We don't know what the new owners' intentions are yet. They may choose to abandon the Hard Rock branding altogether. If that's the case, then anything goes...

(by the way, I certainly wasn't advocating for a roundup or a scrambler. I'd love to something like an ARM drop tower in the spot currently wasted on the Phonehenge stage (or a double shot, I'm not picky). All they were doing with it last season was a magic show that no one cared about.)

If they get the entrance price under control, I'm not going to be as concerned about the number of attractions. But again, that was the number one complaint about the park - there just wasn't enough there to do. The second complaint was that it was too expensive for the number of attractions. Maybe taking care of the second problem will reduce the first, but until the new folks step out of the closet, this is all conjecture.

From Mike Duchock on February 11, 2009 at 5:55 PM
I'm the other HRP fan that Robert mentioned :)

The update to the reports of FPI MB being the new owner had an interesting twist mentioning that a world-renowned theme park management company has been retained. I think we can rule out most U.S. based operators who are either having their own difficulties or wouldn't be interested in just operating a park instead of owning it outright. The exception would be PARC management who would be back in the picture after kicking the tires during the initial bankruptcy auction last December.

Regardless I am very interested in how quickly a company could close the deal and begin planning for opening day. I'm an unemployed former theme park manager who would love to take on the challenge of rebranding and reopening that park.

Also the updated story on Myrtle Beach Online (http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/679/story/779547.html) mentions that a second ownership group is coming forward with a bid. From the story: "Mark Lazarus, who owns Wild Water and Wheels in Surfside Beach, said he's working with a group of investors _ some local and some from out-of-town _ that plans to submit an offer for the bankrupt theme park before the week is out.
``We've been putting a plan together, but have not submitted anything to the trustee,'' he said."

I'd be much happier with the former bidder considering how Wild Water and Wheels is a very small attraction more akin to a FEC than a full scale theme park so I'm not sure that Mark Lazarus would have the expertise to operate HRP.

Also, regardless of who buys the park the Hard Rock branding will disappear. HRC International wants to wash their hands of this perceived failure.

From Robert Niles on February 11, 2009 at 9:59 PM
I've wondered how much HRC was working behind the scenes on this. Remember, Hard Rock did not own or operate this park. It simply licensed its name to the operators. Surely, Hard Rock's owners didn't like seeing their brand name dragged into so many stories about the park's bankruptcy, especially since the Hard Rock Corp. didn't have anything to do with that failure.

If I were Hard Rock Corp., I'd want one of my business partners to either A) buy or assume control of this thing and turn it around or B) buy or get control of this thing and get my name off it before it goes to public humiliation of a liquidation auction.

From Derek Potter on February 12, 2009 at 12:37 AM
The owners paid Hard Rock for the right to use the license. Hard Rock itself really had very little to do with the park, it's design, and operation, and have pretty much been silent through all of this. I'm not sure why HRC didn't step up to the plate on this one.

Didn't I tell you all that this park isn't dead? There's way too much potential for it to simply die. I suspected that somebody would swoop in at the last minute to get the deal of the century, and it appears that I was right. 25 million bucks for a brand new 400 million dollar theme park is a steal. Hopefully the financing goes through.

One question is this. Will they keep the Hard Rock theme? It costs a lot of money for the license, although I (the third fan on the site) thought that they pulled it off very well. The park had "personality", and was entertaining. The one thing that it lacked was rides.

I agree that it's a bad idea to stuff in a bunch of midway rides and trash the great design that was started, but something has to be done to beef up the ride lineup. Perhaps a high capacity flat ride like a drop tower would do the trick. The shows are some of the best I've seen, as is the service and the food. Frankly, there isn't a whole lot that they need to change, except the amount of people coming through the gates.

My thoughts are this. Bring back everyone but the upper management and the marketing department. The park is a great product, but was poorly marketed and horribly managed in the money department. The designers, entertainment department (not sure if they were outsourced), and the workers and managers who made the park run had it right. Bring prices down, promote to the regional market in addition to the tourist market, and be good to passholders. Above all....get people inside the gates, at all costs.

From David Sutter on February 12, 2009 at 9:46 AM
Glade to see it make a come back...But be careful of BLG...Rmemebr they bought Cypress Gardens Adventure Park..and proceeded to close it...And are reworking it into a water park ...I just dont trust them...And Freestyle is big in the water park end as well...Oh well give it a year and watch ..But I wish them the best ..no matter which way it goes...But I do agree why didnt The Hard Rock Company step in and save it...
From Randy Bates on February 12, 2009 at 10:43 AM
I'm new to this site, but I followed the links from Google trying to get info about the Hard Rock Park's new buyer. The comments above are interesting, but I have my own insight about what caused this park to fail and what might be needed to get it on a glidepath to profit.

I travel frequently to Myrtle Beach to monitor real estate projects I own in that market. I also spend leisure time in that area with my children and extended family. Along with addressing the entry cost, here is something the new owners should consider - Hard Rock is not a family friendly brand.

Most kids today are not that familiar with the hippy era that spawned Hard Rock. For a family with children under 12, the themes at Hard Rock can be difficult to discuss with kids. For instance, how do you explain why they call it a Magic Mushroom? I know this sounds lame for adults who have been imersed in that culture, but my guess is that the predominate demographic that visits Myrtle Beach is probably not interested in the the Hard Rock theme.

From Robert Niles on February 12, 2009 at 10:57 AM
Strong point, there. The Baby Boomer esthetic behind the Hard Rock brand doesn't resonate as well as Gen X'ers, very little with Gen Y and not at all with their kids. Hard Rock needs to grow the brand, and its theme, to extend to more contemporary music and acts if it is to remain viable.

Well worth remembering. Thanks.

From Allen Boerger on February 12, 2009 at 11:25 AM
AWESOME NEWS!!! HRP is a fantastic park.

As for suggestions, here's a few:

1) Strike directly at any lingering negative cost perception. Yes, lower admission price. But also take a page from Holiday World and offer free parking, free soda (even if, like Holiday World, you need to add a couple bucks to your already-lowered ticket cost to offset any out of pocket).

2) Understand that people come to the beach to go to the beach. Make your park THE PLACE to visit after dark. offer a 7-day after-6pm pass for the cost of a full day's admission. Advertise this heavily on every road into Myrtle Beach.

3) Continue with that thought: Really make nighttime awesome at HRP. Add a second lagoon show to complement Bohemian Rhapsody. Bring out all kinds of entertainment in the evenings. Introduce some gimmick like PI's New Year's Eve party that keeps folks in your gates longer.

4) Take advantage of those bodies in the park and sell, sell, sell.

5) Add a kick-ass mini golf attraction and a haunted house. Give folks a reason to pass those boardwalk attractions and visit you instead.

6) Build some after 6pm attraction that is performer-based. Think of Adventurer's Club-meets-dead Rock n' Rollers. Celebrity impersonators are everywhere.

7) Create some guerilla marketing initiatives. Back in the day, it seemed so brazen when a little biplane bould buzz WDW pulling a Rosie O'Grady's banner. Okay, so now it's the 21st century. Get crazy.

8) Get the locals in your gates. They will sustain you through the valleys and, if you do your job right, make you feel loved.

9) Build a Bob Dylan attraction.

10) Market yourself as the NEW Hard Rock Park.

From Robert Niles on February 13, 2009 at 1:27 PM
To correct a point in David Sutter's post, Baker didn't buy Cypress; it was the management company for it until August of last year.
From James Rao on February 14, 2009 at 9:02 AM
Randy, I second your comment (or third it, I guess, since Robert already concurred) about the current implementation of HRP not being very family friendly. Just take a look at the night time spectacular: Bohemian Rhapsody. Great song, but with lyrics like "mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he's dead", not too many families will be staying for the closing ceremonies....

I don't think the park should go "kiddie" by any means, but the new owners definitely need to cater toward the lucrative family market...in the case of the night time show, perhaps cutting a few lyrics wouldn't hurt...or picking a different song, or having an earlier show for families and a later show for just adults. Lots of options, but the family should be considered.

Keep posting Randy, I like the way you are thinking!

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