Hard Rock Park: Closed for the Season

Hard Rock Park viewI’ve been a huge fan of roller coasters, and amusement parks in general my whole life. I’ve passed that love onto both my boys.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve made the trek to north of Richmond, Virginia to visit Kings Dominion. I’ve experienced rides at that place now long since demolished, and have seen it change ownership three times over the many years of riding.

But one amusement park I never got to experience was a short-lived park in Myrtle Beach, SC first opening as Hard Rock Park, and shortly later, reopening under different ownership and a different name, Freestyle Music Park.

I’m also intrigued by the abandoned buildings, land, etc. of this world — skeletons of buildings, malls, and even amusement parks, which I think is why Hard Rock Park / Freestyle Music Park in Myrtle Beach intrigues me so much.

Ideas for Myrtle Beach Entertainment

A business man from Florida, Jon Binkowski, who had previously work in the amusement park industry bought a theatre in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina called the Ice Castle. After the Ice Castle was less popular than he had hoped, he instead looked to do a full-blown amusement park around the Ice Castle, initially named Fantasy Harbour. An early thought was to have the amusement park themed around MGM films, but then eventually surrounded around the Hard Rock Cafe.

Hard Rock Park

Hard Rock Park In 2006, the team behind the amusement park reached an agreement with the Hard Rock franchise, amounting to an annual fee of $2.5 million per year. Strangley enough, the financing behind the build of the park included a loan of $385 million, though the park only cost $225 million to build. Around this same time, Hard Rock was also themselves looking to build two other parks — one in Texas, and one in a tropical location, though neither saw the light of day.

Myrtle Beach local real estate investors and owners around the proposed land for Hard Rock Park also gave the project $37 million in cash, along with land worth $25 million in exchange for partial ownership.

By April 2007, Hard Rock Park was being advertised in multiple cities and construction took place that same year. The top of the primary attraction, the Led Zeppelin The Ride was fully visible by July of 2007.

Opening

Freestyle Roller Coaster, Myrtle Beach, SCThe park had a soft opening in April of 2008, followed by the official opening marked by a concert by the Eagles and Moody Blues. Both bands had rides that featured them in Hard Rock Park as well.

The park had six areas, all surrounding the rock lifestyle. They were All Access Entry Plaza, Rock & Roll Heaven, British Invasion, Lost in the 70’s, Born in the US and Cool Country.

The initial launch featured a trio of roller coasters, an 10,000 capacity amphitheater, and the expected amusement rides, live shows, interactive elements, kids’ play areas, shopping and dining attractions that any amusement park would have.

Rides

Hard Rock Park overhead satellite viewThere were several thrill rides that I regret never getting to ride at the park, most notably, “Led Zeppelin: The Ride,” a 150-foot tall roller coaster with a max speed of 65 MPH. It had six inversions and a spiral over the existing lagoon. It was also innovated in that it had a built-in video/audio system. It featured a live Zeppelin concert experience prior to riding, and then music and video on the actual coaster train. The surviving Led Zeppelin members, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones contributed to all aspects of the ride, including the ride name, logo and overall look and feel of the vehicles.

Hard Rock Park at NightThe other two coasters in the park were “Eagles Life in the Fast Lane” and “Maximum RPM!” The “Eagles Life in the Fast Lane” was a mine train roller coaster that weaved through an abandoned lumber mine. “Maximum RPM!” Riders go for a test drive through a mock factory in British sports cars, matched to 1980s songs, including Gary Numan’s “Cars.” The ride building somewhat resembles Battersea Power Station with an inflatable pig, in reference to the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals album. Like the Zeppelin coaster, it also featured roller coaster innovation — featuring a first-of-its-kind ferris wheel lift hill, where the trains were rolled from the bottom of the track onto a ferris wheel-like contraption and then pushed off at the top.

A fourth roller coaster, called, “Slippery When Wet,” in an obviously nod to the Bon Jovi album of the same name was a suspended roller coaster. It featured an interactive experience that allowed observers of the ride to fire water cannons as the roller coaster trains passed by, at the risk of themselves being drenched by overhead showers that fired at random.

The final intriguing ride was, “Nights in White Satin: The Trip,” based on The Moody Blues song of the same name. It was some sort of dark ride that incorporated all your senses while wearing 3D glasses. The description itself didn’t seem to make it out to be anything special, but it was heralded as a top three new attractions of 2008 and got other great reviews. Beth J. Harpaz, Associated Press travel editor, said the ride was one of her all-time favorite rides from any park. Without experiencing it myself, it’s hard to judge, but based on the positive reviews, it seemed promising.

Just composing/assembling these descriptions makes me envious I never made it to the park, nor rode these rides. My next step after posting this article is to dive deeper and see if there’s any footage of any of these on YouTube. If so, I’ll embed/link some of that in this post.

Bad Timing / Bad Choices

Unfortunately, the opening of the park was mired under a lot of bad timing, bad circumstances, and overestimations. The largest issue was the 2007-2008 financial crisis made it so the park couldn’t secure and extend sufficient financing to do a proper advertising campaign. The financial woes were multiplied by high gas and hotel pricing.

By September 2008, Africa Israel Investments wrote of its $10 million investment in the park, “due to liquidity difficulties the park is experiencing”, and the park then announced that they were ending the 2008 season over a month early, laying off most of the employees. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, though they expressed hopes of reopening in 2009. A month later the owners announced plans to sell the park, and in January 2009, the company converted to Chapter 7.

Freestyle Music Park

Freestyle Music ParkBy February 2009, the Delaware bankruptcy court had ruled not to force an auction of the Park and its assets. They approved the sale of the park to FPI MB Entertainment (FPI) for $25 million. The new owners had to re-skin and overall all the park to comply with the court rulings.

The new ownership announced in April 2009 that the Hard Rock name was going to be dropped — partially to separate the new park from the bankruptcy, but also likely had financial motivations as well — not wanting to pay $2.5 million annually in perpetuity. The new name under FPI became, “Freestyle Music Park.” Because of the name change, all the previous souvenirs had to be destroyed, and rides and theming completely overhauled. The different areas of the park became tied to music genres, rock n’ roll, country, reggae, beach music, pop, R&B, alternative, Christian, disco, and rap.

Complaints

Freestyle Music Park - Myrtle BeachIn May 2009, the original owners claimed they still had intellectual property rights relating to the original theming and sued FPI. They claimed the new owners hadn’t done enough to change the park.

I’ve seen/experienced this first hand at other amusement parks. Both Kings Dominion in Virgina and Carowinds in North Carolina/South Carolina previously were owned by Paramount, so most of the rides were tied to their intellectual property. Names of rides had to be changed. Line queues and props throughout had to be removed, altered, etc. You can see both sides — a new owner has no right to reap rewards of the previous’ work, but you also want to minimize the costs of redoing existing rides, attractions, decorations, etc.

2009 Opening of Freestyle Music Park

Under its new ownership, the park reopened at the end of May 2009. Its park sections all got renamed as well “Rock ‘N’ Roll Heaven” became “Myrtle’s Beach.” “Born in the USA” was renamed to “Kids in America.” “British Invasion” became “Across the Pond,” and “Cool Country” became “Country USA.” Additionally the park entrance changed names from “All Access Entry Plaza” to “VIP Plaza”.

The new ownership additionally introduced “Kids in America,” a 17,000-square-foot children’s section with four rides named after hit songs purchased from Zamperla of Italy. The rides were named “Get Off My Cloud,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Wheels in the Sky” and “Life Is a Highway.”

In my mind, a complete unrelated and random addition was also added to the park — CSI: Live, previously performed at Six Flags Magic Mountain near Los Angeles, was added to the park and was based on the CSI TV series. With everything else music-related, this was a strange place to add and spend money on for the licensing of intellectual property.

Inheriting Hard Rock Park Issues

Freestyle Music Park at NightWhile Freestyle was a little more stable than Hard Rock Park, the new owners still were hit with lawsuits, and also inherited some of the debt of the first go round. They also inherited some of the reputation of the first owners, and debtors were less patient the second time around.

In February 2010, FPI attorney Tobey Daluz announced that the park would not open as planned in March 2010. Daluz said when or if the park opened depended on actions of investors who have not been identified.

On March 29, 2010, lawyer David Slough said the park would not reopen unless investors allowed FPI to pay Hard Rock Park’s debt by the deadline of April 1, 2010. He would not say how close investors were to a deal. April 1 came, and Slough admitted the park had no ability to make the payment. Foreclosure and even bankruptcy are now possibilities, but the park could still find investors and reopen, according to attorney Allen Jeffcoat.

Six months later, on August 9, 2010, foreclosure proceedings were filed against the second park owners

Fast forward to March the 2012 season, Alain Wizman of Keller Williams, who had been looking for buyers, said Freestyle appeared unlikely to make a return before 2013. But the park never did return, and land sAt vacant and decaying for multiple more years.

Relocation

dismantled Led Zep coasterIn November of 2013, Myrtle Beach media outlets reported that the park was trying to sell off many of the rides from the venture. Dismantling and removal of most of the rides began in late July 2014, with most of the dismantling concluding by February 2015.

A small local park, Kingdom Amusement Park bought The Magic Bikes and Jump Around Dunebuggies interactive rides, while a pair of rides called Wave Swinger and Balloon Race went to Seabreeze Amusement Park in a suburb of Rochester, New York. It looks like the rest of the rides went to Vietnam to a park called Asia Park. Sadly, Led Zeppelin/Time Machine, Maximum RPM!/Round About, and Slippery When Wet/Soakd’ coasters were all setup but never operated. Eventually they were dismantled in 2017 before showing up in a new park called Dragon Park Ha Long.

While I would have loved to ride these coasters, do you really want to ride these rides that only operated a short time and then sat untouched and unmaintained for years, before being dismantled twice? Not me.

Conclusion

Freestyle abandonedI’m bummed and intrigued about this whole venture down in Myrtle Beach, SC. I’ve visited Myrtle Beach many times, but it never aligned with when either Hard Rock Park, nor Freestyle Music Park. Granted, it was such a small window — around seven months of operation between the two owners.

I’m a huge Zeppelin fan, and it stinks to never had the opportunity to experience that. I love music — especially rock. The original idea for Hard Rock Park was a cool and unique idea for a theme park. It had huge potential, but it probably couldn’t have opened at a worst time.

Here in 2024, the area has plans to be completely been redeveloped into commercial ventures, mainly as a hub for FedEx, as well as a RV.

The vast majority of the information provided from here comes directly from the Wikipedia Freestyle Park page.

Abandoned: Hard Rock Park

The Abandoned History of Hard Rock Park/Freestyle Music Park | Expedition Extinct

Here’s what Google Maps shows the park looking like in 2024. You can still see the guitar shaped/designed concrete just past the entrance:

Google Maps view 2024

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