The Time They Almost Built A Full-Sized, Permanent Replica Of The Starship Enterprise In Las Vegas

Back in the early 90s, when downtown Las Vegas was playing a distant second fiddle to the strip, the city were looking for a new attraction to draw people in. Ultimately, something called the Fremont Experience was built, complete with super loud speakers and the biggest screen on the planet. I’m not too clear about what it is, this “Experience”, and what it does. I would, however, have understood the other candidate, the other attraction, the one that so nearly got built instead.

Sometime Disney imagineer and director of the Masters of the Universe movie, Gary Goodard has blogged about his involvement in designing a life-size replica of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek to be “dry-docked” in downtown Las Vegas. He’s also dug out some of his concept artwork from the time, and recounted how the project was so nearly approved.

And how it fell at the final hurdle.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.”

More details at Gary’s blog. It’s a sad story, but a wild one too, full of crazy people who almost pulled off a crazy idea. I can’t help but find it heartening.

Thanks to Gary Whitta for the pointer.

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