Coming soon to a bookstore near you: multi-million dollar intrigue, shadowy Russians and devious fraud that are all part of...
Freestyle Music Park?
The fictional "Grand Strand," released Oct. 26, is based on former Freestyle employee Reid Barwick's work at the park in 2009, but quickly departs from reality when a dead body washes up in Carolina Beach. The book, released for online purchase only, could not be bought and shipped in time for this column, but Barwick previewed the thriller in an interview with The Sun News last week. Barwick said he is working with his publisher to get the book into stores.
The makings of the book - down to how much money was invested in the park - are identical to real life, just with a renamed park: Journalists set out to find the real story after "Rocktime Amusement Park" is built for $400 million in Myrtle Beach, goes bankrupt and is resold for $25 million.
The book involves Russian investors who are based on those who actually financed Freestyle, Barwick said. Barwick says he began dreaming up the story while still working as a purchasing manager at Freestyle.
"I kind of sat there and heard the history of the preceding owners and kind of watched the new management and their Russian financiers walk through the park," Barwick said.
"You're watching things and [think], 'This would be an interesting story if there was something to it more than what there was.'"
Any fraud in the book is purely fictional, said Steven Baker, former president of Freestyle.
"Even in the Russian deal, to my knowledge there was absolutely no fraud," Baker said.
"It was all out in the open. No one has ever questioned the legality of this."
Barwick left the park midway through its 2009 summer season when management stopped paying him, he said.
Unable to find employment back home in Nashville, the journalism school graduate said he sat down and wrote the story in about two months.
The company always paid employees, Baker said, although some had their contracts terminated early.
Those who read the book will recognize most of the local landmarks including Restaurant Row, several strip clubs and the Georgetown steel mill, Barwick said.
Mortgage holders foreclosed on Freestyle earlier this year and the park is involved in more than 10 lawsuits, with some parties alleging the park committed fraud.
Of the real-life fraud allegations against Freestyle, Barwick said:
"It doesn't surprise me. They were living hand-to-mouth with the Russians at that point."
N.C. occupancy up going into fall
More guests checked into N.C. hotels in September than the same month last year, according to the latest occupancy report from the N.C. Department of Commerce.
Occupancy rose 13.6 percent in Brunswick and the nine other southeastern counties - the highest gains in the state.
Hotel room rates rose by 0.4 percent.
"The fact that we've had some nice weather has been good, so the comments I've heard have been positive," said Mitzi York, executive director of the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority. "The general sentiment - people are feeling much better than at this point last year."
Year-to-date, the state beats the U.S. average for occupancy growth, seeing 6.5 percent compared to 5.2 percent nationally.
The county's accommodations tax revenue was up 8.7 percent from July through September, York said.
Contact JAKE SPRING at 626-0310.