The theme park formerly known as Freestyle Music Park might be back in business in time for summer 2012. FPI US LLC, the mortgage holder of the former park that has been closed for two years, bought the property out of foreclosure this week with a goal of reopening the theme park in Fantasy Harbour in time for next summer, its attorneys said Wednesday. “There’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” said David Slough, an attorney for FPI US.
Elected leaders and business owners near the park heralded the news Wednesday, saying it could help rejuvenate an area that desperately needs it. “Any time you can take something that is dead and you can bring some life to it, it is good,” said Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus, whose district includes the theme park area.
FPI US is looking for either a partner to manage and operate the park or a buyer who can purchase the park and reopen it, Slough said.
Talks are in the early stages, so it’s not clear exactly when the park would open, whether it would still be called Freestyle or whether it would create a new theme. “They hope it reopens and it’s a big success,” said Franklin Daniels, an attorney for FPI US. “They don’t want to see it be a vacant theme park. They are not willing to just let it go.”
FPI US LLC, which had foreclosed on former park operators FPI MB Entertainment LLC a year ago, bought the property at the Horry County foreclosure auction Monday through a “credit bid” of $7 million. That means FPI US gets the property but doesn’t pay that amount because it’s already owed more than that by the former park operators. The total debt was $34 million, according to court records. Other businesses that were still owed money by Freestyle are out of luck.
FPI US won the auction over one other bidder, Alton Swann, a real estate professional in Myrtle Beach who said during a brief telephone conversation Wednesday that he had been working on a plan to bring somebody in to take over the park. “I’d just like to see something happen to it,” he said. “It’s a shame to see it go to waste.”
The 50-acre theme park has sat idle for about two years, a far cry from the hoopla that marked its first and second openings during a two-year period.
The theme park, which was built for $400 million, originally was branded as Hard Rock Park and debuted in 2008. It filed for bankruptcy protection after a slow first season.
The park’s second run started early the following year when a group of investors bought it out of bankruptcy for $25 million in February 2009 and reopened it as Freestyle Music Park a few months later. It also fell into financial troubles after just one summer - a season where tourism statewide took a hit because of the lagging economy that kept many people from traveling or prompted them to cut back on their spending if they did go on vacation.
The park has been closed since, riding a wave of cases in court. With the litigation behind it, the park can move forward, Daniels said. FPI plans to look at what went wrong the first two times the park operated, identify what needs to happen to make the park a success and find a buyer or good partner to manage the park, Daniels said. That means the theme, marketing and ticket prices – which some critics said were too high, especially during the tough economy – all will be reviewed, he said. Tickets for admission to Freestyle started at about $40 for adults and about $30 for children, though the park dropped them later in the summer 2009 to less than $20 for special promotions. “Many things in the past have to be done differently,” Daniels said. “They’ve learned a lot of hard lessons, lost a lot of money. But they are committed to it.”
Some business owners in the Fantasy Harbour area, off U.S. 501 at the Intracoastal Waterway, said a revived theme park could be the first step in getting the area back to where it should be. A re-opened theme park could bring more people to the area and make it look better, said Robbie Love, owner of The X Sports Center off George Bishop Parkway near the park. “Definitely, that’s a boost,” he said. “That should be a good shot in the arm for the area.”
Having the park reopen might not translate into more business at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Fantasy Harbour Boulevard, but it would help the look of the area, said Lori Posma, the hotel’s sales director. “That would be great,” she said. “Just the perception of the area - everybody says it looks so decrepit over here...Any action over here would be fabulous.”
During the past two years, theme park operators and others have stopped by the park interested in buying some of the rides, but the investors didn’t want to sell off the park piece by piece, still optimistic that the theme park could eventually work in Myrtle Beach, Daniels said. A small crew has continued to work at the park, including an engineer who regularly runs the rides to keep them in shape, Daniels said. “You start selling off the rides, you destroy the value of the theme park,” he said. “They truly are committed. They want to see it reopen. They want to see it work.” But they’ve learned lessons from the park’s back-to-back failures, Daniels said.
Loftus said a theme park can work in the Myrtle Beach area if it’s done right. “There were many issues that kind of led to the demise of the first two. Obviously, there were a heckuva lot more that went wrong than right,” Loftus said. “Done correctly, and with the right marketing, it should have a chance.”
One culprit that hampered the park’s second run was the Great Recession, which led to an 8 percent drop in tourism in South Carolina in 2009, according to figures released this week by the S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism department. Tourism throughout the state generated $14 billion in 2009, down about $1 billion from the previous year. Tourism officials have said the industry has picked up since then.
FPI’s talks with potential managers or buyers are in the early stages, and it’s unclear when FPI would announce details of a reopening. It probably would take between six and nine months to adequately prepare the park and promote it, though Freestyle owners did it in three months after they bought the park out of bankruptcy.
“There’s no timeframe,” Daniels said. “They are working hard.”
Posma of the Clarion hotel, like Loftus, said a theme park could be successful here. “If they take input they have learned and apply it, commit to it, I think they can make it work,” she said. “I’m hoping for the best.”
On a side note, I took at look at the website for HRP Creative Services, the company that holds all of the rights to the former Hard Rock Park concepts/namesakes... The website is still online, but has been tweaked to reference an "award winning Rock n' Roll Theme Park®"
^ Well, if the article is correct, it possibly wouldn't take that much money at all. It says that there is still staff that works at the park, maintaining the rides and running them occasionally to make sure they stay in good condition. I for one would welcome seeing the park come back. Granted, I never made it during the Freestyle Music Park days, I did visit the park when it was still Hard Rock Park. It really does have a lot of potential, if it had only lasted long enough to work through its growing pains. What it really lacked in my opinion is a stand out theme to attract a more diverse crowd. While Led Zeppelin/The Time Machine was a fun coaster, there was little else in terms of thrill rides to attract hard core thrill seekers. On the flip side, themeing the park as Hard Rock Park was probably a bit of a deterrent for family's. Hard Rock Cafe isn't overly know as being the go to place for family time. I think if they can bring in one or two more big attractions, and do some overhaul in terms of themeing on certain areas of the park, it could become a hit.
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