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Public isn't on the hook for failure of Hard Rock Park

Local officials were not happy to see Hard Rock Park fail, but they sure were happy for one thing: The park did not get any loans or bonds funded by taxpayers.

Tax figures show the park actually helped boost revenue collected by Horry County, though one local economist said it is not certain whether visitors and locals would have still spent that much money - just at other amusements.

But at least at the end of the park's run in September - at a time when major banks and insurance companies were asking for taxpayer funds and bailouts - local taxpayers did not have to worry about shelling out fistfuls of cash to help Hard Rock Park.

During the summer, the park contributed 12 percent of Horry County's admissions taxes, collected from entertainment activities such as movie tickets, theme park tickets and golf rounds.

The park's management said they expected 3 million people a year to visit the world's first rock 'n' roll theme park, which closed and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy five months after it opened in April.

Horry County collected more than $4 million in admissions tax from June through August, according to state records, and the park contributed almost $500,000 toward that total, according to its bankruptcy filing.

That helped Horry County see a summer that was better than last year, with a 9 percent rise in admissions tax revenue. Leave out the park's contribution, and tax collections would have been down 4 percent.

The park also contributed about $475,000 in state sales tax from June through its closing.

Still, with the park's unpaid debts - and assuming that some of the park's visitors would have spent money at other amusements - the park probably did not contribute much to the economy in its short run, said Don Schunk, an economist with Coastal Carolina University. It might have hurt the economy more than it helped, he said.

"Indeed, given the detrimental impact on other local businesses - due to Hard Rock's inability to attract new visitors and new spending to the area and a resulting loss of revenue for other attractions, and due to its unpaid bills to local creditors - it is very likely that Hard Rock Park turned out to be a net drain on the local economy in 2008," he wrote in an e-mail.

The park did not achieve what Schunk said was crucial to its economic success: bringing new tourists to the area, inspiring existing tourists to spend more and prompting locals to spend at the park instead of elsewhere.

Critics say the park did not advertise enough and priced its tickets too high at $50. Jon Binkowski, the park's chief creative officer, attributed its demise to the overall economy.

The park's management team approached members of the Horry County Council in 2005 to gauge whether they could get between $25 million and $30 million in public bonds to help with financing. But when council members said the process would have to be transparent and public, the park abandoned the idea.

This experience does not change the chances of another private project being able to secure public financing, County Councilman Marion Foxworth said.

"Just because it failed doesn't mean that there might not be another project either in that vein or in some other fashion that would work," he said. "Anything, in my opinion, would need to pass that threshold of due diligence when you're talking about public dollars."

The park had paid all of its county taxes and licensing fees, county officials said.

No public projects have been thrown into jeopardy because none were pegged to projected revenue from the park, said Chad Prosser, the head of the state's tourism department. Prosser was chairman of Horry County Council when talk of a theme park in the area surfaced nearly a decade ago.

"In retrospect that's a good thing," he said. "Everyone was waiting for this thing to get up and running and demonstrate that it was going to work."

It's a situation of lost opportunities, Prosser said, and "what could have been."


View bankruptcy documents, search a database of people owed money by the park, and watch videos and see pictures of the park while it was open at MyrtleBeach

Coming up

This is the third in a series of stories leading up to the auction of Hard Rock Park on Monday:

Sunday | The story behind the rise and fall of Hard Rock Park

Monday | A look at the potential bidders and a preview of the auction

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News