Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
"Nights in White Satin- The Trip" was considered to be one of the best rides anywhere! It only lasted 1 season.
That said, and I've stated this here before: The day I had at HRP about a week and a half after it opened in '08 was one of the top 5 amusement park days of my life: one absolute classic in NIWS:TT; One very good B&M in Led Zeppelin:The Ride; and one well-themed, above average mine train (Eagles:Life In The Fast Lane.) Also saw one very entertaining show.
I don't believe I ate while in the park, but I still have my guitar-shaped souvenir cup/bottle. There could not have been 300 people in the park..and they gave me free parking. Yes, $50 was pretty steep for what they had, but it was money well spent.
Incidentally, the Moody Blues played the theater where I work this past Thursday night.
As to why it failed, I'd say it's a combination of the below:
-Poor Location: The park was built on the site of a failed shopping mall and away from the main tourist parts of town. Just the fact that the mall failed should have been enough to send up a danger signal before the project even got off the ground.
-Unreasonable Pricing: If I remember correctly, the park had only about 15 attractions (including the five coasters), yet charged a $50 admission price in its first year. I've got a feeling that it would have been significantly more successful with a $30 admission price. During the second year, I heard that they were practically giving away tickets (2 for $20 or something like that).
-Delayed Attractions: Not only did the park lack attractions, but I heard about a third weren't even ready by opening day. Some had yet to finish testing due to various issues, and a couple weren't even completely assembled. For example, Maximum RPM took almost two months after opening before it even saw one rider.
-Unrealistic Expectations: The park managers reportedly anticipated an average daily attendance between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe only a handful of parks can achieve those numbers, and they are all destination parks people usually spend multiple days at, not some half-day park that draws visitors from about a 100 mile radius. I could see a park like this one pulling 5,000 to 10,000 visitors a day, but not more.
I honestly think that if the park had a better location, reasonable pricing, more attractions, and delayed opening until everything was ready, they would have been successful. However, initial reactions and bad reports just killed the place. From the trip reports I've read, it sounds like the park had an average daily attendance of around 300 visitors, and I don't know of any park that can survive on that. It's still sitting there and could be restored and run properly by a new party, but I've got a feeling the chance of that happening is slim (probably worse than the chance of Kentucky Kingdom reopening).
I think the creative team also shot for the moon on the project, and while they delivered on many aspects, they dug themselves such a deep hole with debt and cutting edge attractions, that they could never recover or weather the economic storm that unexpectedly struck. The $50 admission seemed more than reasonable, considering most visitors to Myrtle Beach are willing to shell out $20 to play a round of mini golf, but the location of the park off the beaten path (and on the approach vector to the airport which restricted attraction height) made the park seem less accessible. The delays in opening some attractions, primarily Maximum RPM, had some impact, and the overall number of attractions probably disappointed many expecting a full-day experience, but if the crowds had initially come as expected, I think we would be discussing their newest attraction for 2013 right now.
In addition to the steep price, the timing of a theme park destination - just as the world is/was coming out of a global recession... I think the theme and the concepts of the park were excellent; just particular parts of the actual business strategy had huge flaws with sad consequences.
Interestingly enough I recently read a book looking at the element of 'themed' destinations and how in particular themed restaurants have been suffering a decline in recent years. With Hard Rock being a forerunner of this chain, perhaps I am wrong - maybe people are sick of the Hard Rock brand?
As far as a Hard Rock Cafe, if you've never been to Myrtle Beach, there is one of the most iconic Hard Rock Cafes (pyramid shaped building) about 3 miles away from the former location of Hard Rock Park. Also, park designers were buying the brand recognition of Hard Rock, not the ability to own and operate a Hard Rock Cafe. Park operators are not interested in running established restaurants that they have to run at 5% margins.
I respond: I agree. My point was that these genres (along with country) could be part of a park themed for music -- not the Hard Rock park (brand).
And I still think Hard Rock would have had a better chance for success as an IOA island -- like Marvel or Jurassic Park or Dr. Seuss -- as opposed to a whole theme park.
Side Note: I spent a few months working at Hard Rock's corporate headquaretrs here in Orlando, so I'm familiar with Hard Rock Calling and its international presence. It was actually a very cool gig. I had a working space just outside of Hamish Dodds' office. He has a signed Syd Barrett guitar hanging on his office wall.
Even something as beniegn as a table service restaurant (Alice's Restaurant), probably cost the park an arm an a leg just for the name and concept.
Back to the discussion about other genres, I do agree that other genres could be integrated into an all-encompassing music theme park. Country music did have a pretty heavy influence at Hard Rock Park with the Eagles Life in the Fast Lane (people still debate whether the Eagles are country or classic rock), and there was an area of the park devoted to country music that included a country-themed ice show. Opreyland USA was pretty successful as a country-music theme park, and Dollywood has taken bluegrass music to the masses. Jazz and classical music have the obvious advantages of being mostly in the public domain (zero intellectual property costs), but I wonder if they would be able to sustain popularity as those fan bases are aging and tend to not be identified as typical theme park visitors.
Intellectual property rights are a huge deal, which is why so many parks try to use their own soundtracks, or just pay for a random soundtrack from a service like Musak or other satellite service.
There are a couple of other bands from when the attraction opened in 1999 that are still rockin' it (Bon Jovi and U2 come to mid), but there were a lot of bands from that era who were on top of the charts that don't even exist anymore like Collective Soul, Tonic, Blur, Duran Duran, Creed, Live, and more.
I Respond: ... as an island at Island of Adventure.
From things I've read, walking up and down 10 flights of stairs a hundred times would be better than Monstars Of Rock.
Speaking of Monstars of Rock, I hope some of my TPI brethren will watch (and donate during) the 12/12/12 Concert For Sandy Relief on Dec. 12. As someone who was affected badly by and bore first-hand witness to the devastation the storm caused, I can tell you this area still needs a LOT of help. The concert, live from Madison Square Garden, will be streamed, shown on many cable stations nationally, and shown in some movie theaters locally in hard-hit areas (that's what I'm doing.) Featured performers are Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, The Who, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, and Chris Martin from Coldplay. Oh, and the Rolling Stones were added yesterday (an addition I predicted Thursday to my co-workers, family and friends.) If you can watch and are interested, please do...if you can help, even better.
To address a few of the topics coming up in the thread.
Location- Everyone bags on the location of the park, which was a failed shopping mall that was redeveloped. The location was also the intersection of Highway 17 and 501, one of the busiest sections in town. If location was the big deal that people say it is, then Broadway at the Beach, which is right down the road and equally far away from Ocean Blvd, would not be thriving. Unless you're in the middle of low country 40 miles from the shores, location is a moot point in Myrtle Beach. It was 10 minutes from the shore, and people drive that kind of distance for shopping, dinner, golf..etc etc. Fantasy Harbour wasn't and still isn't exactly the beacon of developed property, but revitalization was sort of the point. Success would have brought it.
Debt/Overhead- This on the other hand, was a killer. The licensing fees for Hard Rock and the respective bands alone were huge, let alone servicing the large debts from new construction, vendors, payroll..etc etc. They overspent
Price- Some might say that the park was too expensive, and they might be right. Perhaps they should have priced a little lower to entice customers. That's not to say they were too expensive though. It was still a good product Once again, people in Myrtle Beach drop a lot of cash on dinners, mini golf, (you would be surprised) shopping, and other attractions. A good theme park fits in, especially since the Pavillion had closed.
Economy- Obviously, this was a killer. They managed to open at one of the worst economic times in history. When you're out of money and the bank isn't loaning anything, trouble comes quickly. Myrtle Beach still saw millions come to the beaches that year, but that's probably pretty much where they stayed. The whole town took a hit from the recession, and is just now getting back to pre-recession numbers.
Management- In my eyes, the buck stops with management at any company, and this is no different. They overspent in the design/construction phase, overpaid for the licensing fees, undermarketed, overstaffed, and left very little in the reserves for operations, not to mention burning dozens of local businesses for millions in unpaid invoices. Again, all this might have been resolved had the credit markets not been frozen, but there didn't seem to be any plan in place to weather the storm, and they didn't seem to understand the way the market works down there. Attractions down there partner with hotels and cross market, they didn't. It's said that the CEO pretty much jumped ship only a couple of weeks after the grand opening...only to come back and sue the new owners after they bought the park at bankruptcy the following year.
I was there on the last day and got to see it as well. Great concept, fantastic design, huge potential...bad business plan, horrible management, and horrible execution. Had the business side been in the hands of a more capable person, we might not be having this conversation. The place looks rather sad these days. So much potential wasting away.
That conversation elicited the single nastiest email I've ever received from a manager associated with a theme park, who ripped us for not believing HRP's ridiculous numbers. I said to myself then that this park was doomed.
Throw in a global credit crunch at the precise moment that HRP needed a credit lifeline and, well, there ya go.
As overblown as those first projections were, it still wouldn't have been crazy to see 5 million the first year under different circumstances and different leadership. Frozen credit markets alone don't explain horrible attendance. In fact to draw a parallel, Family Kingdom, the small beachside park on Ocean Blvd, had a record year that year.
The hate mail wasn't a coincidence either. That guy turned out to be a joke. I'll give him credit for being a good salesman in an era where Wall Street would pay a million for a sneeze, but he burned pretty much everyone...investors, employees, local government, vendors and local businesses, even the people who bought the place at the bankruptcy auction. He sued them before they could even start pulling weeds.
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort