Six Flags Power Plant Part 1: An Experiment In Baltimore

One of the things I am most proud of at Theme Park University is documenting parks and attractions that have closed. From Hard Rock Park to MGM Grand Adventures, to the Titanic Attraction at Fox Studios Australia, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the heads of each project and finding out about the design phase, how it was launched, and the reasons for its ultimate demise.

Six Flags Power Plant in Baltimore Copyright The Goddard Group All Rights Reserved

Six Flags Power Plant in Baltimore
Copyright The Goddard Group
All Rights Reserved

Out of any closed attraction, Theme Park University readers have requested to hear about the Six Flags Power Plant in Baltimore, Maryland more than any other for years. While I personally never had the chance to go, many of you have fond memories of visiting the indoor theme park as a child. Believe it or not, Six Flags decided to take a sharp left turn and create a heavily themed attraction not only without roller coasters, but no rides at all. Period.

A billboard created for Six Flags in the early stages to let the public know what was coming. Copyright The Goddard Group All Rights Reserved

A billboard created for Six Flags in the early stages to let the public know what was coming.
Copyright The Goddard Group
All Rights Reserved

The Power Plant opened on Pier 4 in Baltimore in summer 1985 at a cost of around $40 million. After closing in 1990, it never really caught on with the public, losing a ton of money for Six Flags and the surrounding businesses in the area. However, that doesn’t mean the entire project was a complete loss.

 Herb Ryman’s initial illustration of the Power Plant when we were trying to sell Six Flags on creating more excitement on the street in front of building.  We were very concerned that the structure was imposing but not inviting.  There was really nothing on the exterior that told you something inside was fun and exciting.  We argued that we should create a line of shops along the main walkway, and a grand porte cochere at the main entry as well.  We wanted to light up the exterior like HARROD’S in London.  We wanted to add flags along the top of the building and even considered trying to sell Six Flags on having light fireworks fire out of the top of the smoke stacks every hour.  We also lobbied for a new restaurant and night time entertainment facility that would be located on a barge along the pier, creating a larger “destination” feeling for the area.  All of this was shot down for budgetary reasons, leaving a rather stark building exterior without any color or excitement. Copyright Gary Godd Entertainment All Rights Reserved

Herb Ryman’s initial illustration of the Power Plant “We were very concerned that the structure was imposing but not inviting. There was really nothing on the exterior that told you something inside was fun and exciting. We argued that we should create a line of shops along the main walkway, and a grand porte cochere at the main entry as well. We wanted to light up the exterior like HARROD’S in London. We wanted to add flags along the top of the building and even considered trying to sell Six Flags on having light fireworks fire out of the top of the smoke stacks every hour. We also lobbied for a new restaurant and night time entertainment facility that would be located on a barge along the pier, creating a larger “destination” feeling for the area. All of this was shot down for budgetary reasons, leaving a rather stark building exterior without any color or excitement.” – Gary Goddard
Copyright Gary Godd Entertainment
All Rights Reserved

The art direction for the Power Plant was absolutely stunning, even compared to Universal and Disney standards. That’s mostly due to the fact that many Disney Imagineers were between projects when this was being designed. This also included some up and comers, who are now big names in the themed entertainment industry.

Gary Goddard and Tony Christopher with Six Flags Press Representative Julia Pheiffer at the Opening Night press event. Copyright The Goddard Group All Rights Reserved

Gary Goddard and Tony Christopher with Six Flags Press Representative Julia Pheiffer at the Opening Night press event
Copyright The Goddard Group
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At the head of design was Gary Goddard, who was fairly green in terms of spearheading new projects like this on his own. A former Disney Imagineer, Goddard decided to branch out on his own. He had only created a few projects for Six Flags and Universal Studios Hollywood when the opportunity for the Power Plant came along.

Gary Goddard on location with Phineas T. Flagg shooting the finale sequence for The Sensorium Copyright The Goddard Group

Gary Goddard on location with Phineas T. Flagg shooting the finale sequence for The Sensorium
Copyright The Goddard Group All Rights Reserved

Today, Gary Goddard has created some of the most amazing attractions on the planet, from The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man to Terminator 2: 3-D to the Georgia Aquarium and even the just announced Cirque du Soleil Theme Park opening in Mexico.

The Entry to The Electric Pavilion of Wonders at the 2nd Level of the Grand Entry Hall Copyright The Goddard Group

The Entry to The Electric Pavilion of Wonders at the 2nd Level of the Grand Entry Hall
Copyright The Goddard Group

Gary has graciously taken the time to give us his take on the Power Plant project and how it could have been a game changer for the industry. In addition, he has provided us with over 100 photos of the Six Flags Power Plant from design down to the finished product. Thanks again, Gary!

Story meeting at Landmark Entertainment with the massive model of the MAGIC LANTERN THEATRE behind key team leaders Gary Goddard and Tony Christopher, and Project Manager George Wade Copyright The Goddard Group  All Rights Reserved

Story meeting at Landmark Entertainment with the massive model of the MAGIC LANTERN THEATRE behind key team leaders Gary Goddard and Tony Christopher, and Project Manager George Wade
Copyright The Goddard Group
All Rights Reserved

Gary Goddard: The Power Plant was an interesting project for us. We had barely started our company up, but we had already created some pretty cool productions and attractions, such as The Adventures of Conan: A Sword & Sorcery Spectacular for Universal, The Monster Plantation for Six Flags Atlanta, The Great Texas Longhorn Revue for Astroworld, and a couple of other projects as well. But the Power Plant was a major undertaking with a lot of challenges. While the end result offered some incredible art direction for interior spaces, a few interesting attraction elements, and the world’s first 3D/4D attraction, ultimately the entire indoor park was less than satisfying for a variety of reasons.

Tony Christopher and Gary Goddard on the set of THE SENSORIUM film Copyright The Goddard Group All Rights Reserved

Tony Christopher and Gary Goddard on the set of THE SENSORIUM film
Copyright The Goddard Group
All Rights Reserved

I think more importantly though was that project was the one that allowed a ragtag group of ex-Disney Imagineers to push things ahead while also bringing together a wide variety of artists, producers, programmers and designers who would bond together in the creation of what we hoped would be an incredible attraction. Many of those people are leaders in the industry today. Companies were born to help supply everything from special effects, to audio and lighting equipment, to film and video production.

Gary Goddard and Keith Melton (Director) working on THE SENSORIUM 3D Film Production Copyright The Goddard Group All Rights Reserved

Gary Goddard and Keith Melton (Director) working on THE SENSORIUM 3D Film Production
Copyright The Goddard Group
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So we broke new ground, gathered up a core team of amazing people and we had this amazing adventure. But the biggest lesson of the entire experience was understanding that the foundation upon which you build your project had better be one that pays attention to the basic rules of entertainment in the leisure world. The simple truth is that the Power Plant needed rides. We knew it. We pushed hard. But management for their own reasons didn’t want rides in the Power Plant. So that’s a big part of the story.

Ed Sotto and Gary Goddard discussing the show design around the first study model of the Power Plant main building Copyright The Goddard Group  All Rights Reserved

Ed Sotto and Gary Goddard discussing the show design around the first study model of the Power Plant main building
Copyright The Goddard Group
All Rights Reserved

Editor’s Note: Come back next time to Theme Park University for more on this incredible project that could have changed the industry. Many thanks to Gary Goddard for providing all the images for this article. Please note: they are not to be redistributed or copied without the written consent of the respective owners.

 

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