Skip to comments.NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: THE “STAR TREK” ATTRACTION THAT ALMOST CAME TO LIFE in 1992
Posted on 04/12/2012 9:43:12 AM PDT by Jack Hydrazine
Gary Goddard looks back on what really happened back in 1992 when the Downtown City Fathers were looking for a way to revitalize the downtown core and attract more visitors.
In 1992 downtown Las Vegas had become a distant second to the Las Vegas Strip. Where at one time, downtown Las Vegas was the center of the action, the increasing magnitude of the Las Vegas Strip, with the expansion of Caesars Palace, the Mirage having opened, and with more and more mega resorts on the way, 80% of the Las Vegas market was now on the Strip, leaving only 20% for the downtown casinos and hotels. The loss of business was turning the downtown area into a ghost town and something needed to be done quickly. The city needed an attraction something of enough size and power to bring the people back to the downtown area.
They put the word out and a number of ideas were considered, with only two of the concepts getting down to the finals. One was THE FREMONT EXPERIENCE; and the other was THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE. THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE was created and designed by Gary Goddard and his team of designers at Landmark Designer: Chuck Canciller; Illustrator: Greg Pro; Planner: Mac MacElrevey.
The competition called for something that would become an attraction of such magnitude that it would draw people from the strip, and ideally it was to also provide a destination attraction that would re-establish the downtown core as the center of the action in Las Vegas. A major task one that would be almost impossible to achieve. The other catch was it could not be a hotel or a casino because the other hotels and casinos in the area were going to be paying for this attraction to bring people to THEIR places of business, not to have another competitor down the street.
My concept was to do something so large and so epic, it would fire the imaginations of people around the world. After looking at how difficult it would be to bring people to the downtown core (from the Strip), I knew we had to have something really exciting, dynamic, and without equal. We kicked around a few ideas, and then I came up with something really unique. I went to Chuck Canciller, my lead designer then and a genius as well and said, What if we built the STARSHIP ENTERPRISE FULL SCALE on the land at the end of the street. Imagine that Chuck looked at me as if I had lost my mind, but by that time he also knew I was serious about big ideas like this. He immediately started working on some ideas.
My gut hunch was that this was the single best solution to the citys lists of goals as it exceeded their criteria:
It would, in one fell swoop, make the downtown THE destination for Las Vegas visitors. It would provide international press at every step of the way, from first announcement, to ground breaking, to topping off the highest part of the ship, to opening day and through the opening month, and then continuously for special events throughout the year. It would transform the downtown area, creating new jobs, stimulating growth, and would fill the hotels and casinos. It would create a new 8th Wonder of the World with an iconic monument that would take its place alongside other must see monuments in the world. (You would be able to see this from the airplanes as they came for landing at the Vegas airport. Its that big.) It would truly be The Worlds Largest destination attraction and one based on a classic mythology that would be around for generations. We learned everything we could about the Starship its actually size and dimensions, how it would exist in dry dock on the planet if indeed such a situation had been possible. We imagined what it could be, and how we might achieve it. We got Ken Ball (former head of engineering at Disneys MAPO) involved to figure out how to engineer and support it. (Ultimately we realized we would need to add some supports on the outer edge of the disc section due to the extremely high wind conditions in Vegas. For this we created a high tech scaffolding structure that gave the ship more of the appearance of being in an open-air dry dock. I have not yet located that sketch, but Ill try to find it.)
The big idea was building the ship itself at full-scale. That was the main attraction. That being said, we also knew we would have to have some kind of show on board. So, conceptually, it was to be a tour of the ship, with all of the key rooms, chambers, decks, and corridors that we knew from the movie. There was to be the dining area for the ships crew (where you could dine in Star Fleet comfort), and other special features. There were also one or two interesting ride elements that we were considering including a high-speed travelator that would whisk you from deck to deck. But we were really just getting into the show aspects when everything came to a head.
During this time, as we were working out the conceptual design and plan, a licensing contract was negotiated for Paramount Studios with the terms and conditions, including a substantial rights payment up front, and on-going revenue participation, all subject to the approval of the Studio Chairman, which would not be a problem if the project was approved. As you can see, from the designs weve shown here, we got pretty far down the road, with drawings, renderings, engineering studies, construction cost estimates about $150,000,000 (in 1992 dollars) we were ready to go. I had Greg Pro working on it, I had Dan Gozee (long time Disney Imagineering illustrator) on it, and we were really into the whole idea. Everyone was excited. This was going to be a world-class iconic project that would become an international sensation from the moment it was announced.
The Las Vegas downtown redevelopment committee had made its decision, along with Mayor Jan Jones. I was called to a meeting and told, privately, that THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE was the choice of the committee, but they wanted confirmation that Paramount would indeed approve the deal. While Paramount Licensing loved it, and Sherry Lansing (then President of the Studio) loved it, it was made clear to us that a decision of this magnitude would need to have the approval of the Studio CEO who, at that time was Stanley Jaffe.
To make a long story short, Paramount (Licensing) and the redevelopment committee negotiated a basic deal, subject to the approval of the Studio Chairman. The Mayor of Las Vegas was involved and had also approved the basic deal. So everything came down to a major presentation at Paramount Studios on one weekday afternoon.
The Mayor flew in on a private jet along with the representatives from the downtown redevelopment committee. Sherry Lansing was there, the Paramount Studios licensing group executives were there, several key executives at Paramount were there, and of course, Stanley Jaffe, the decision maker. To be clear, EVERYONE loved the project up to this point the entire Vegas downtown redevelopment committee loved the concept, the Mayor loved it, the Paramount Studios Vice President of Licensing and the entire licensing department loved it, as did Sherry Lansing. Everyone loved it but now it was up to one man. Stanley Jaffe.
And I will never forget this meeting.
All of our work, the effort to get Paramount, the Mayor, and redevelopment committee aligned, everything had come to this moment. We were ready to go. Money in place, land provided by the city, license for the property negotiated with Paramount licensing all set. If Mr. Jaffe says yes and we are a go project. And the city wanted to have a press conference within a week announcing the project.
So with everyone in the room, I take Mr. Jaffe through the project. With the art, the plans, the overall concept. After my spirited pitch everyone was beaming everyone except Mr. Jaffe. Mr. Jaffe thanked us for the effort, and he congratulated us on creating a bold concept and presentation, and then went into a speech that went something like this:
You know, this is a major project. Youre going to put a full-scale ENTERPRISE up in the heart of Las Vegas. And on one hand that sounds exciting. But on another hand, it might not be a great idea for us for Paramount. Everyone in the room was stunned, most of all, me, because I could see where this was going. In the movie business, when we produce a big movie and its a flop we take some bad press for a few weeks or a few months, but then it goes away. The next movie comes out and everyone forgets. But THIS this is different. If this doesnt work if this is not a success its there, forever . I remember thinking to myself oh my god, this guy does NOT get it . And he said I dont want to be the guy that approved this and then its a flop and sitting out there in Vegas forever.
And with that, Mr. Jaffe in a single moment, destroyed about five months of work by a host of people, and killed one of the greatest ideas of all time.
Stanley waltzed out of the room and I think everyone was stunned. No one could believe it. But our dream pretty much ended there. Sherry Lansing was stunned and apologized to the room and followed her boss out. The Paramount licensing team was embarrassed to say the least, and of course, they were also realizing they had just lost out on millions of dollars in future licensing revenues too. The Mayor and the redevelopment committee were just depressed I think. But they thanked me for all the efforts I put into it, and for making the meetings with Paramount possible, and then they headed back to Las Vegas.
So, with THE STAR TREK ENTEPRISE now officially off the table, the city awarded the competition to the #2 concept the big rooftop video screen that became THE FREMONT EXPERIENCE which while lacking the imagination, majesty, power and iconic nature of the STARSHIP ENTERPRISE, still managed to turn the downtown area around for about five years. So given that, imagine what the ENTERPRISE would have done.
Fan or not, visitors to Las Vegas would have HAD to go see this and get their photo taken there.
The fact is, had Mr. Jaffe approved the project, it would have been the most memorable project in his life, it would have been a financial boon to Paramount, still paying the Studio to this day. And it would have been a great part of his legacy, the Paramount legacy, and the Star Trek legacy.
Albert Einstein said it best: Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
This project was one of my greatest disappointments because we had come so CLOSE. We were in the room. Financing was there. Land was there. Everyone involved wanted it to happen. And one person entered the room and killed it.
Given the vision and the work that went into it, I am happy now to share some of the creative and planning work that went into this project. I continue to believe this was, and is, a great concept. Perhaps it will find a home somewhere else in the world, who knows?
Follow up comments by Gary Goddard:
I appreciate everyones comments and thoughts and I was surprised to see such a wide range of thoughts, comments and opinions. Because this blog has created such major interest by so many people, I thought I would take a moment to answer some of the interesting issues raised by others.
To be clear, I have been doing this for a LONG time. Meaning, creating attractions that push the envelope and hearing it cant be done by so many others on a relatively consistent basis. Your readers should understand, if it were up to the suits- and in some cases even fellow designers there would have been no Terminator 2/3D, certainly no Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 3D ride, no Forum Shops at Caesars Palace its a long list.
Doing the seemingly impossible has been something I have made a career of. I found some of the comments interesting, and some I felt were just the glib one liners taking a shot at something just to be witty but Im taking the time to provide some additional information and comments here for those who care. I think the main thing is some people seemed to think this was a sudden concept and that we did not THINK about the reality o buildling it and operating it, or that we dont consider the economics on a project like this, or worse, that we dont understand the nature of one of a kind attractions designed to appeal to large market. In fact, we think about ALL o these things. So, on some of the main pointsmade by well-intentioned readers here I know here are some additional facts, background and comments to consider:
1. For those concerned with the Economics:
The project WAS economically viable because of a very unique situation. The downtown casino owners were going to finance the attraction and whether it made money or not was not their primary concern they would make their money back in their hotels and casinos. And in fact, they NEEDED SOMETHING (and FAST) to keep the downtown viable. (It was they after the ENTERPRISE project was vetoed by Jaffe) who then went on to spend about $65,000,000 on the The Fremont Experience and there was NO return on that possible its a big digital projection screen that covers the street and shows some videos with blasting music and its free.) So understand, the economics of this attraction were quite unique. The project was vetted by an outside economic consultant as well, who confirmed this would an absolute 100% home run. And by the way the interesting thing is if you believe this project would have attracted 4 to 5 million people a year, is that it would have made all of the investment back and more. If you do the math trust me it works. (And I believe this attraction would have brought more like 8 to 10 million people downtown.)
2. For those who think this was only for TREK fans:
This project was much larger than one for Star Trek fans alone. Remember, I am IN this industry, I create attractions The Forum Shops draws 18,000,000 people a year. The money is made in the shops and stores. But the people come to take their photos in the night sky that happens every 2 to 3 hours. The STAR TREK ENTERPRISE was on a scale take this the right way with Mount Rushmore, with the Statue of Liberty, with the Effiel Tower. It was to be a magnificent man-made monument on a colossal scale. It would be something that would become magnetic a must see for people who are Trek Fans or not. On a relative scale of the people who visit these attractions, only a percentage go into the Statue of Liberty, or up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But people FLOCK to see these man made wonders. the STAR TREK ENTERPRISE would have drawn people from all over Vegas and would still be drawing them today. And remember, that was the first and foremost goal get traffic (people) off the strip and BACK to the downtown area. I think ENTERPRISE would have done even more than that I think ENTERPRISE would have been a destination for a high percentage of Las Vegas visitors (meaning that they are already intending to visit the ENTERPRISE even before they get to Vegas. It would be one of the must see destinations in Vegas.
3.For those who compare the shelf life issue to Star Trek- The Experience:
Comparing this to STAR TREK; THE EXPERIENCE is not in the cards. And I did STTE so dont get me wrong that was a hell of a great attraction and I am very very proud of it. But it was ultimately a very cool attraction inside a casino. (And attractions like that DO need updating when repeat visitation is a major part of the equation.) STTE was a truly great attraction but it was not a frigging 28 story high, 4 football field-long stand-alone MONUMENT to an international mythology. IMAGINE this thing day or night, sunrise, sunset, nighttime whether you are on the ground looking at up it, or on the main deck looking out its something you really have to SEE to believe. The magnetic power of the Starship Enteprise would be I beileve quite strong. Stronger than for Star Trek fans ONLY. This is the point it was first and foremost a MONUMENT something on a scale that fires the imagination. The show within it was important but the real draw would have been the ship itself. And I disagree with everyone that thinks it would lose its appeal the Disneyland Castle(s) dont lose their appeal The Empire State Building doesn;t lose its appeal The ENTERPRISE would be as strong a draw today as it would have been the first five years. Think about this there are very few projects in the world that would find major international press at ALL of these occasions: Announcement of the project. Revealing the Design Model. Ground Breaking. Previews. Opening Day. And then annual celebrations thereafter for spcial events. Live broadcasts from the site, and so on. The magnitude of this concept is quite different than STTE though again, I am proud of both but you cant compare them. They are very different attractions built with very different goals.
4. For the architects who say it could not be done:
For you experts I say ye of little faith and I banish you from any and all future projects of epic imagination. We have done projects around the world over and over for which certain architects always said it could not be done. But then we find an architect or engineer who says you know with a few changes, this CAN be done. (Obviously we prefer the latter architects to the former.) For the record, this project was being engineered by no less than Ken Ball and a team of engineers (ex Disney engineers who were trained to always say how can we do this rather than this is not possible) And yes, there would be some compromises to the conceptual design, but (a) this is normal in the design process, and (b) the compromises that were being discussed were all viable and by that I mean being able to solve the engineering issues in ways that would not destroy the ships design, lines, and aesthetics. Part of my experience doing projects like these is knowig WHO to go to because of EXACTLY people like the architect who commented on the seeming impossibility. It as not impossible. Challenging yes, but do-able. (I actually mentioned the wind shear factors in my original blog, and that fact that we were coming up with solutions.)
5. The Financial Viability: The project because of the unique source of financing mentioned earlier made possible by land being given for free by the city, and the casino operators providing the capital without requiring a profit was unique. In fact, in the original brief, they city and casino owners were not looking for a profit. The unique thing was with THIS project, they got a best possible attraction, AND it actually promised to return a profit as well. Something NO ONE thought possible at the time. The cash flow from the attraction part of this was to provide, first and foremost, payments to Paramount under the licensing deal, and 2nd cover the operating and marketing costs for the attraction. Anything left over would go to the investors which were the casino owners. So this would have been a big financial success for the licensee (Paramount) without any financial risk on their part, and it would have been a success for the operators, whomever that turned out to be AND it would most likely have returned the investment to the developers. (Remember the project that was done in place of the ENTERPRISE The FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE cost about half of what the ENTERPRISE was going to cost and its FREE so there was never any hope of recouping cost from the attraction itself, yet it was built.)
6. Lastly, for those that think as new Starships were designed for new movies, that this one would be obsolete I disagree. We picked this model for very specific reasons. I dont need to go into that here, because you are all fans so you KNOW the place that his ship holds in the Star Trek legacy. And, in success, perhaps another park in Europe or Asia would take on the next generation design, or a Romulan Ship, or whatever. But Ground Zero would always have been Vegas.
I hope this helps to let everyone know that the issues raised in many cases are understandable given the fact that my blog was a condensed version of the events. But we did not go boldly forward on any project as blind men. We were being tasked by EVERYONE at the time regarding who, what, how, when, why and every one of the issues raised here and more had to be answered.
Do not think that anyone in this group took this project on lightly. It was vetted at a level far beyond what has transpired in this blog. The Mayor and her team, the downtown redevelopment committee, the hotel and casino owners, Paramount Licensing they all took it seriously and analyzed it from every perspective. And I am telling you this was the silver bullet that met and exceeded every goal.
The point of all of this is this: BECAUSE we did our homework and had the answers BECAUSE this project was so ideal for this particular set of goals and resources BECAUSE of all of this, we found ourselves IN THE ROOM with all of the principles with the land, the city, the financing, the licensing agreement agreed to in principle and everyone (except ONE as it turned out) WANTED this to happen. Each for their own reasons. The RARITY of getting all of the parts working together on a project of this magnitude in five months time is quite staggering. So when it was shot down by the one person in the room who did not do his homework, who made his decisions based upon fear, and who lacked any kind of understanding of his own property (Star Trek) I consider it tragic. It was a great personal, creative and emotional loss for me I can tell you that.
Frankly I am surprised that so many fans of Star Trek dont see what could have been. I just ask that rather than be a naysayer in hindsight just take a moment, and THINK about the sun rising on THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE on that Plaza, or the Silhouette at night as the sun sets, with the lights going on throughout the ship. Think about it at night, lit up and glowing like a beacon I am telling you THIS was a home run. On every level. And it is one of the great disappointment of my life that it did not happen.
So, I hope this provides a bit of additional insight. We do not approach any projects we do lightly, nor did we approach this one without fully comprehending what it was we are intending to create. On every level.
Challenges yes. Impossible, a resounding no.
The Fremont Expiernce (we enjoy it and visit everytime we are in Vegas ) is the Venice Beach of Nevada
We loved it too Our friends renewed their vows there The transporter thing was amazing
That might have been really cool. Challenging, but with a dock “framework” around it, it could be do-able.
my husband and son rode on it I missed out I guess.
I would have wanted them to go TOS not TMP/TWOK. More iconic.
True but they chose the ‘A’ model for very specific reasons that he doesn’t elucidate upon.
Well you know that fanbase, many would be mad if it wasn’t the D or the E. Trekkies can’t make them happy.
Might have been good, but with a shelf life. Spent 10 years in Vegas, on the strip, as a professional. Everything one learns about Vegas and gambling is that to allure gamblers with new properties/casino’s you must glamorize it. Its a draw if its glamorized a la’ Steve Wynn and his properties.
Gambling is never glamorized by association with science fiction themes. By making a life sized Star Trek thingy is violating the norm. The Las Vegas Hilton had the ‘Star Trek Experience’ for 10 years and closed because of declining attendance. Similarly, I view the downtown life sized Star Trek ship as having a limited shelf life and mostly male interest, which would not guarantee that a family would be drawn year after year to downtown versus on the strip, especially if the wife had any say.
I prefer Star Wars to Star Trek (but still a big fan), but I would rather go see this than a life size model of the Millenium Falcon. If this was in Vegas I would have already visited there to see it. Likely numerous times.
The D and E models are over twice as long (2,738 feet) as the original which was about 1,200 feet long. You’d have to place it further out of town in order to have enough space to build it.
I am not familiar with Mr. Jaffe’s overall success as head of Paramount, but I think he made the right call here. Mr. Goddard, obviously, is too close to the subject to understand the branding risks. Let’s face it: even a huge Trek fan like me understands that a full scale Enterprise in downtown Vegas could end up being on the order of the second largest ball of twine.
Scale or no, you’d be replicating 1960’s sci-fi sensibilities with 21st century technologies. So it would either look inauthentic, or incredibly cheesy. There is no getting around that horrible flaw.
Me, too. I don't gamble (bores me and I always lose,) so will likely never go to Vegas until and unless there's something like this. It would have been spectacular.
The 23rd century was in a retro phase at that time. Didn’t you know? They loved 1960s styling so they made everything modeled on that style! LOL!
“It would have been glorious”.
I never went the the Experience because I don’t gamble and don’t go to Vegas. How ever had I ever had a 3rd reason to wind up in Vegas (like some professional event) I’d have gone. Which is always really the problem with attractions there, non-gamblers ain’t coming to the city so it doesn’t really matter what other stuff is there.
And what would this attraction be without green-skin Orion girls serving cocktails?