My last article at Theme Park University featured a handful of exciting additions that were to be added to Hard Rock Park, had it been a bigger success. Jon Binkowski and his creative team collaborated on the design of a Hard Rock Hotel, a shopping and dining complex called Paradise City, a parade route, a rapids ride themed to the Guns N Roses song “Welcome to The Jungle” and even a chapel for rock n roll weddings. If that got you excited, I hope you’re sitting down.
Earlier concepts for what eventually became Nights in White Satin The Trip included the Magical Mystery Tour dark ride themed to classic Beatles tunes. Once the creative team from Hard Rock Park approached Apple Corps Ltd., the group responsible for the Beatles catalog, they discovered Apple was only interested in an entire park centered around the four lads from Liverpool. Jon and his team kicked around a few ideas, including this Yellow Submarine Carousel, based on one of their classic (and arguably most annoying) songs. You think being a ride operator at “it’s a small world” and hearing that tune all day seems like a grind? Working as an attendant at this attraction might have been a touch more challenging. In the end, the Yellow Submarine Carousel concept was dropped because Apple refused to budge. Hard Rock Park’s creative team felt their brand had much broader appeal.
Speaking of appeal, who remembers the animated movie “Doogal” that debuted in 2006 featuring the voices of Whoopi Goldberg and Chevy Chase? Ok, how about the children’s series called “The Magic Roundabout” produced for the BBC that also aired on Nickelodeon during a children’s variety show called “Pinwheel”? The concept above was drawn up before the movie debut of “Doogal”, Jon and the team loved the idea that adults who grew up with the series of 5 minute shorts would be able to bring their kids, who could discover the characters for the first time through the new movie and this new attraction. However, research showed that only residents of Great Britain were familiar with the show. Americans had no idea who they were – especially after the film tanked at the box office in 2006. The idea was scrapped, but keen eyed fans of Hard Rock Park will notice that the concept looks dangerously similar to the Magic Mushroom attraction that opened in the summer of 2008.
It’s kind of crazy to think that Hard Rock Park didn’t open with anything centered around one of the most recognized and marketable bands of all time. Secretly, Jon Binkowski and Steven Goodwin had several meetings with Gene Simmons, the frontman and marketing genius behind KISS. Gene toured the park before it opened and fell in love with the place, he kept commenting that everything in the park should have been themed around his group. The problem was, the first KISS Coffeehouse opened in Myrtle Beach in 2006. A non-compete clause was negotiated in the contract for the new store. Gene told Jon and Steven that with a little bit of time (and money), he could massage that deal.
Jon later put together an entire book of proposals and pitched it to Gene Simmons in his Beverly Hills mansion. Jon sold Gene on a brand new section of Hard Rock Park centering on KISS. Pictured above is the Bump N KISS Bumper Cars attraction that would have gone in the Waccamaw Mall alongside Nights in White Satin The Trip. The former strip mall was less than 50% occupied and had plenty of space for new additions. A new KISS themed dark ride, a restaurant, and even a location where the entire family could have their faces painted to resemble the band were all in the works as the next major park expansion.
Not all additions to the park were going to be permanent fixtures. Jon has always been a fan of haunted houses, so one year before the park opened, his team sampled all the major haunts found in theme parks around the southeast. The plan was to get through the 2008 season and then focus on Halloween in the Fall of 2009. With the Hard Rock name, getting bands to help create haunted houses would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Since his team had time to kill before they needed to reach out to anyone, a short list of performers to eventually collaborate with – including Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and Iron Maiden – was made. Sadly, the park never made it to the Fall of 2009.
The biggest competition for Hard Rock Park was not another theme park, it was the beach. Since they were only a few miles inland, the HRP team knew there would be a huge demand for water attractions, which would appeal to the local audience of sun worshipers. A splashdown boat attraction would have been a natural fit. This boat ride would have been themed after the 1964 classic, “Wipeout” by the Surfari’s. The flume would have fit perfectly beside the Live Amphitheater concert venue in the Born In The USA section of the park. Also, if you zoom in on the picture below, you will see a small expansion of the Banana Splitsville area of the park which would have included kids’ flat rides “Frogger Hopper” and “Rockin’ Tug.”
Rock n roll has been intertwined with the automobiles since the genre began back in the 1950’s. Jon saw the Ford Motor Company as a potential sponsor for new attractions and had a handful of ideas based on that relationship. He found several classic rock songs that involved models from the Ford family and pitched them to the Ford Motor Company. Ford never officially said “no,” but rather “not right now.” The auto maker wasn’t in a financial position to sponsor anything at that moment, and they wanted the park to be a proven success before they spent their own money on new attractions.
Hot Rod Lincoln was a twist on the classic pirate ship swing ride, substituting a Lincoln convertible for the boat and pumping in the catchy tune written by Charlie Ryan in 1955. It would have been a clever Hard Rock Park spin on a standard ride you have seen at nearly every amusement park and state fair in the world.
As part of this car-themed proposal, Jon also pitched a retrofit of the Maximum RPM roller coaster. The idea was to expand the queue and turn it into a Jaguar factory/showroom. While waiting in line, guests could check out the latest designs of Jaguar vehicles that have been pre-assembled in the showroom. Further into the queue, guests would be entertained by a factory assembly line. Robotic arms would grab various car parts and place them on conveyer belts. Every few minutes, a buzzer would sound for “dance break time.” One of the robotic arms would turn to a stereo and crank up one of its favorite tunes like “Baby You Can Drive My Car” by the Beatles and guests waiting in the queue would be treated to a synchronized dance routine performed by factory robots!
Once guests boarded the vehicle, it would essentially be the same ride as Maximum RPM, having the new car roll off the “assembly line” and into the ferris wheel lift. Secretly,had Ford signed on to sponsor the new version of the attraction, Jon wanted use that funding to lengthen the track. He knew the coaster was short, and he had the land to add a magnetic launch system halfway through, essentially doubling the length of the ride and adding a surprise burst of speed.
By far, out of anything Hard Rock Park had planned for the future, Mustang Sally would have been the most kick ass ride at the park had it gotten a chance. Sally would have also fit snugly beside the Live Amphitheater in the Born In The USA section of the park – instead of the Wipeout water ride I described earlier. The queue would have been a showroom illustrating the history of how the Ford Mustang has been synonymous with rock and roll.
The six-passenger Mustang-inspired vehicles would have presumably had an on-board sound system provided by JL Audio. Your Mustang’s radio would play songs from American artists like Bob Seger, Huey Lewis, Joe Cocker and many more. The dark ride portion of the journey would have started off in Chicago, the east side of Route 66. Once guests left load, they would stop by a drive through to pick up some food before tearing off towards a drive in movie theater. Just before the car barreled through the screen, it would have made a sharp turn to avoid getting “flashed” by the paparazzi. Riders would have then careened down a street where some of their fans would’ve asked them to slow down to catch a glimpse of their bitchin’ new ride. “Accidentally” the car would hit a puddle, splashing the admirers as it peeled out!
Finally the Mustang would have stopped at a red light at the entrance to a tunnel. Some “bad guys” in a car would have pulled up alongside the Mustang and challenged the riders to a race. The “hero” car would have floored it leaving the challengers in the dust, zooming outside for the high speed portion. Leaving the tunnel at a speed of 70 mph in less than four seconds, the car would have passed famous Route 66 landmarks, maneuvering through hairpin turns and catching airtime over hills before reaching the West Coast. Upon reentering the show building, guests would have found themselves in Los Angeles, the other end of Route 66 where they would disembark from their one of a kind coaster experience.
So who’s ready to hop in the car and go visit Hard Rock Park now? Jon Binkowski created a park that was solid on opening day and genuinely had something for the entire family to enjoy. The future looked even brighter with all the additions he wanted to add to the park experience. So what the hell happened? How could a $400 million dollar investment just go belly up within one summer? The reality is that it doesn’t matter how amazing your product is. Without a proper business plan and the economy working in your favor, everything can be gone in a flash.
Come back next time and we will discuss why the park didn’t last more than one season. Meanwhile, let me know in the comments section if any of these additions would have been incentive enough for you to visit Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach had it stayed open. Also, if you would like to get more updates on everything going on at TPU, click on our Facebook link on the right and like our Theme Park University Fan Page.
Editor’s Note: Once again, a huge thank you to Jon Binkowski for sharing this amazing concept artwork with Theme Park University.