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Bringing Some Style to Hard Rock Park

An Interview with Steve Baker, President of Freestyle Music Park in Myrtle Beach

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Bringing Some Style to Hard Rock Park

Steve Baker, president of FPI MBE, in front of the signature coaster at Freestyle Music Park.

FPI MBE 2009. Used with permission.
Updated April 09, 2009
After the $400-million Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina posted dismal attendance in its inaugural 2008 season, its owners declared bankruptcy. New owners FPI MBE purchased the park for a song--$25 million--in February 2009 and plan to reopen the property Memorial Day Weekend 2009 as Freestyle Music Park. The new name, according to FPI MBE, will allow the park to incorporate more genres of music than rock, including country, pop, and R&B. (It will also relieve them of licensing fees to use the Hard Rock brand, and will give them the autonomy to develop the park without the encumbrance of the Hard Rock chain.)

For more information about Hard Rock Park:

I spoke with Steve Baker, president of FPI MBE, about his plans for Freestyle Music Park. (John Stine, the Director of Sales and Marketing for FPI MBE, also participated in the interview.) Baker, who began as a parking lot attendant at Disneyland in his teens, has had a long career in the park industry. Among the positions he held during his 24 years with Disney, Baker handled the marketing and corporate sales for Epcot at Walt Disney World. In 1988, he started Baker Leisure Group, a consulting agency for the themed leisure business whose clients have included Fiesta Texas, Hersheypark, Silver Dollar City, and, coincidentally, Hard Rock Cafe. Following are edited excerpts of our conversation.

Arthur Levine: Why Hard Rock Park? What attracted you to the project?

Steve Baker: Two Myrtle Beach investors [Tim Duncan and Tom Hiles] who were involved with Hard Rock Park contacted me to see if we could put together a plan and a team to make a bid [on the bankrupt property]. I walked the park, and was very impressed. It's a beautiful park. It didn't deserve to go through what it did. We made a successful bid, and here we are. We're excited about resurrecting it and making it a success.

A. L.: What is behind the name, "Freestyle Music Park?"

S. B.: Our partners and owners [MT Development of Russia] have been developing Freestyle Park in Moscow, a project that we've been helping them with. We always had a Plan B; if we were not successful in acquiring the Hard Rock brand, the alternative of Freestyle Park was something that made sense. It's a brand that has worldwide expansion plans, and it gives us flexibility. The name, "Freestyle," says it all. We're free to develop, plan, and operate something that we can adapt to local markets. The Moscow project, for example, is different from what we're doing in Myrtle Beach. It's an indoor property that will be anchored by an indoor ski slope. There will be other Freestyle parks and attractions built in other parts of the world. FPI MBE stands for Freestyle Park International, Myrtle Beach Entertainment.

A. L.: How will the park differ from Hard Rock Park?

S. B.: We're focusing on making it more family friendly, not quite as edgy as it was under the Hard Rock brand. We're going to add a children's area with four new rides. There will be some cosmetic and more subtle changes that will improve the guest experience. We are under a tight schedule, and we'll get done what we can get done given the time.

A. L.: What will happen to the Led Zeppelin- and Eagles-themed coasters? How about the Nights in White Satin attraction?

S. B.: The coasters will remain. We're re-branding and re-themeing them. We're changing Nights in White Satin also. Our plan is to have it open when the park opens. We'll be releasing details soon. Stay tuned.

A. L.: What about live concerts?

S. B.: This is still a music park. There will be live music and new shows throughout the park. We don't have a concert series planned yet, but there probably will be one. Right now, there are no plans for any hard-ticket, additional-charge concerts.

A. L.: Do you consider the park a seasonal-regional park, a destination park, or a hybrid of the two?

John Stine: We are going to market locally, regionally, and nationally, but what we're going to do nationally is work with Myrtle Beach tourism partners. That's key. We can't go it alone outside the regional market; but, we'll align ourselves with hotels, the timeshare community, and others, and offer packages and specials together.

On the next page, the interview continues as Steve Baker discusses his thoughts about why Hard Rock Park failed and his plans for the future of Freestyle Music Park.

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