Hard Rock Park Shuttered

The owner of the Myrtle Beach amusement park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday, ending an inaugural season that fell far below projections for the 55-acre, $400 million rock ‘n’ roll attraction.

When it opened in April, park officials planned to stay open through what it called “rocktoberfest” and even have some programs during the Christmas season.

The park, which included roller coasters based on Led Zeppelin’s classic “Whole Lotta Love” and the Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane,” plans to reopen in 2009, park spokesman Jim Olecki.

The park will keep 75 workers through the offseason. It had 2,000 employees at its peak, Olecki said.

The attraction never had enough money for promotion when it opened in April and the worsening credit crisis made it impossible to raise more, Olecki said.

Executives suggested the park could attract 30,000 visitors a day and 3 million for the year at $50 a ticket, but those numbers fell far short. In August, it cut operating hours.

Owner HRP Myrtle Beach Holdings filed under Chapter 11 in Delaware bankruptcy court. The company licensed the brand name from Hard Rock International, which owns the restaurant chain.

A bankruptcy judge will decide what will happen to people who hold annual passes and other tickets.

The park, which opened this year after seven years of planning, couldn’t have picked a worse time to start because of a drop in tourism based on rising gas prices and other economic problems and the credit crisis, experts said.
“The stars were clearly not aligned for them to get going this year, some of which was their own doing and some of which were other factors,” said Don Schunk, a research economist at Coastal Carolina University who studies tourism.

The park should be able to attract more visitors in 2009, but Schunk isn’t sure things can turn around.

“Given everything that’s going on right now, how likely are they to go out and attract new investors? With the kind of markets we have right now that’s a challenge for any business,” Schunk said.

The park was the biggest investment ever in South Carolina tourism.

“We’re naturally disappointed, as we were hopeful Hard Rock Park would establish itself as an anchor attraction for the Grand Strand, and clearly that has not happened,” said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “Clearly in the future, we would encourage them to revisit the pricing strategy and consider more out-of-market advertising.”