Not-for-profit trying to buy former Freestyle Music Park property, some still hold out hope for theme park return

dbryant@thesunnews.comApril 24, 2013 

— The former Freestyle Music Park, which has sat dormant for the past three summers, might get some new life soon.

Abiding Village, a 5-year-old not-for-profit that offers arts classes for youth and other outreach from its center in Fantasy Harbour, aims to raise $10 million to buy the park’s 150 acres, including buildings, to expand its offerings, the not-for-profit says, adding that it would not buy the rides.

Abiding Village, which is an arm of Christ United Methodist Church that also operates in Fantasy Harbour near the closed theme park, said it must raise the money by May 12, Mother’s Day, to make the purchase.

Dirk Vader, an attorney representing the theme park’s owners, declined Wednesday to talk about plans for the theme park property or confirm that it is in negotiations with Abiding Village.

“We do not give any interviews, sorry about that,” he said.

Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus, whose district includes the theme park property, and neighboring businesses in the area haven’t heard much about what’s next for the property, though they all said they want some activity there soon. Some are still hopeful that the theme park might return, and a consultant is researching that idea to potentially pitch to a group of investors.

Abiding Village, which now operates an arts center offering free classes in the former Waccamaw Pottery shopping center, has a multi-phase vision for the sprawling theme park property that would include a business center that would pair local business leaders with young budding entrepreneurs, a Christ-centered private school and a shopping and dining complex run by the products of its business center, said Jess Sagun, director of Abiding Village.

As of Wednesday morning after about a week of fund-raising, Abiding Village had nearly $75,000 of the $10 million needed, according to the group’s website.

“We’d be crazy not to try,” Sagun said. “It would be foolish not to pursue it.”

Jeff Dunn, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, said the church will not go into debt to buy the park property. He said that contributors can specify that their donation only be used for the park property purchase, and they will receive a refund if Abiding Village doesn’t raise enough money to buy the property. Donations can be made through the website, www.abidingvillage.org.

Though still less than 1 percent towards its goal and less than three weeks until deadline, Sagun said she is confident that God will make this happen.

“I’m excited to see how he does it,” she said.

The theme park has sat unused since closing after the 2009 summer season. The park, which officials said cost $400 million to build, debuted in 2008 as Hard Rock Park, was bought out of bankruptcy for $25 million in early 2009 then reopened as Freestyle Music Park for summer 2009. Freestyle also failed and closed after one season.

If those owners had stuck with the theme park and continued to run it, Freestyle was scheduled to have its first profitable year this summer, said Martin Durham, who oversaw entertainment at Hard Rock Park and Freestyle Music Park and is now the property manager at the former Waccamaw Pottery, which is amid a plan to renovate, rebrand and bring in more tenants. The shopping center sits just feet from the closed theme park.

In August 2011, the theme park’s mortgage holders took control of the property with the goal of finding a buyer or operator who could reopen it in time for the summer 2012 season. At the time, the park’s attorneys said the owners didn’t want to sell off the rides, but Abiding Village officials said the rides would be removed before they purchased the park land and buildings.

Vader, the park’s current attorney, declined to answer any questions, including what its intentions are for the rides.

Durham hasn’t given up hope that the theme park could still work.

“I’d love to see a park open back up, even if it was a seasonal park,” Durham said. “It’s a shame after all this time that they haven’t been able to put a deal together for somebody to come in and open it up. It’s hard to fathom. An attraction like that should be very popular in this market.

“I would love to see it open back up, for Myrtle Beach’s sake.”

There might be a group of investors interested in doing just that. Jeff Patterson, a consultant with 10 years of resort development experience, is gathering details about the park to possibly pitch it to a group of investors he works with. Patterson moved here in July, and the theme park caught his attention.

“My first thought was how could something like that fail? It looks pretty cool,” Patterson said. “It seems to me that Myrtle Beach should be able to support this kind of park. My gut tells me there’s enough tourists that come to Myrtle Beach that a park like that done a little differently should be able to be a thriving business.”

He said he might know more about whether the investors might pursue it in the coming week.

Though Durham prefers the theme park return, he said he sees potential if Abiding Village were to buy it.

“Anything is better than it sitting there like it is,” Durham said.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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