Miracle Strip at Pier Park has outgrown its space.
In its five years in operation, the park has been so successful that owners Teddy and Jenny Meeks are looking to expand — and bring back even more of the iconic rides and attractions from the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park, which operated on the beach from 1964 to 2004.
And there’s no room for the Starliner roller coaster in their current location.
The Meeks started off purchasing the original carousel from the old park in 2008 and have been adding to their vintage ride lineup ever since. They said the number one question patrons ask them is, “When are you bringing back the Starliner?”
Although the project is still in the planning stages, the Meeks hope to move their 11 current rides to a bigger space by next year and have the Starliner up and running by 2015.
Now, they are one step closer to doing that.
The Panama City Beach Planning Board approved a conditional use request Monday for the amusement park, which would be located on a 10-acre plot of land at 284 Powell Adams Road, not far from where the park is now.
Despite a written request from adjacent property owner Simon Property Group to delay the decision, the planning board unanimously gave the Meeks the go-ahead to move forward with the project, but they outlined a series of conditions to follow as it progresses.
The letter from Simon, the company that operates Pier Park, was submitted to planning board members before the meeting and expressed concerns from the company about traffic congestion, project design, fencing, security, lighting and potential effects on Pier Park that the park would bring.
The board’s approval requires rides be no taller than 81 feet, that the park follow the same design aesthetic as Pier Park, that all rides remain operable and in good repair, and that operators ensure the roller coaster does not infringe on safety parameters for adjacent business Panhandle Helicopter, which operates a helicopter landing pad nearby.
The project also requires a traffic impact study, and planning board members determined the surrounding environment would not be negatively impacted by the park.
The Starliner, a wooden coaster built in 1963, stands about 70 feet high and would adhere to the conditions set forth by the board.
The Meeks’ vision is to create not an amusement park, but a “park with amusements,” focusing on the area’s natural surroundings and adding unique art and landscape features.
“Our thought is that this is going to be a park for the community to come to and just enjoy with their families,” Jenny Meeks said. “The one thing we hear more than anything on this beach is that what you all have done is phenomenal for families. We have created that across the street; the only thing is we need more space.”
Initial plans also include the construction of a 52-foot tall iconic lighthouse attraction with a working signal light and viewing deck, and an 800-square-foot water play area with 24 interactive spray heads.
However, the Starliner would be the park’s main attraction, as it was at the old Miracle Strip Amusement Park.
After Miracle Strip Amusement Park closed its doors, the coaster was brought to Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven in 2006, where it operated as the oldest roller coaster in Florida until the park closed in 2008.
The Meeks own all of the Starliner’s original parts but would need to rebuild the coaster’s track.
Meeks said it would take about 10 months to rebuild the coaster to its original glory, with an estimated cost of $2.5 to $3 million.
“We knew Pier Park was going to come in against us today, and you feel like its David and Goliath,” said Jenny Meeks, who noted lease complications with Simon also fueled the desire to seek other options.
The Meeks said the next step is to begin conducting traffic studies and starting design plans for the park.
“Initially, we just wanted to make sure the planning commission approved the (conditional use) for the amusement park,” Jenny Meeks said. “We’re thrilled we jumped that hurdle, because that was a big hurdle.”