(The real winner of the 1992 downtown Las Vegas redevelopment competition was NOT the FREMONT EXPERIENCE – it was the STARSHIP ENTERPRISE from STAR TREK. But no one knows this – until now.)
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 Caesar’s 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 city’s 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. It’s that big.)
- It would truly be “The World’s 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 Disney’s 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 I’ll 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 ship’s 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 we’ve 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. You’re 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 it’s 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 doesn’t work – if this is not a success – it’s there, forever….” I remember thinking to myself “oh my god, this guy does NOT get it….” And he said “I don’t want to be the guy that approved this and then it’s 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?
EVENTUALLY a Star Trek attraction did make its way to Las Vegas, circa 1998, and Mr. Goddard was at the center of that creation as well. We will follow up with the story on the creation, design, production and opening of STAR TREK: THE EXPERIENCE in our next follow up blog posting.
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