Vegas: The Final Frontier. While Las Vegas has undergone a number of renovations over the years, spearheaded by the mob or by family-friendly capitalists, there were once plans for a futuristic attraction that would have drawn Trekkies in droves. A 1992 Las Vegas downtown redevelopment competition was nearly won by the Goddard Group’s plan to build a full-scale Star Trek USS Enterprise, complete with restaurant, ride elements, tours and live entertainment, but not, to its detriment, a hotel or casino. Fans of the show or not, tourists would have flocked to the area to, at the very least, have their picture taken with the iconic Starfleet craft. The $150 million project, paltry by today’s Vegas standards, came close, but lost out to the competition’s runner-up, the “Freemont Experience.” Hit the jump for much more, including a tale of how the ego of one studio head grounded the entire Star Trek USS Enterprise project.
News of the failed enterprise (ha!) was announced when Gary Goddard, head of the Goddard Group, posted the story online (via TrekMovie). The idea to build a full-scale USS Enterprise came at a time when the Las Vegas Strip was pulling an overwhelming majority of tourism and investment capital away from the downtown region. Big problems demand big ideas and, at the time, nothing would have been bigger than a true-to-life starship attraction. Goddard’s idea answered the competition’s requirements of something that could:
“become an attraction of such magnitude that it would draw people from the strip, a destination attraction” that would “re-establish the downtown core as the center of the action in Las Vegas.”
Since other hotels and casinos in the downtown area were financing the winning project of the competition, those two features would be left out due to conflict of interests. While this was surely a sticking point, it wasn’t the coffin nail. The project had to be cleared by not only the city officials, but also the studio that owned the property: Paramount. Most of the decision makers were on board, including Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones; the redevelopment committee; the President of Paramount Studios, Sherry Lansing and the Paramount Licensing group. One man was left to convince before the project could get off the ground (so to speak): Paramount CEO Stanley Jaffe.
As quoted by Goddard:
Albert Einstein said it best: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
And with that foreboding comment, Goddard recounts the fatal meeting with 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.
So with everyone in the room, I take Mr. Jaffe through the project. With the art, the plans, the overall concept. After my spirited “pitch” everyone was beaming – everyone except Mr. Jaffe. Mr. Jaffe thanked us for the effort, and he congratulated us on creating a bold concept and presentation, and then went into a speech that went something like this:
“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.”
Stanley waltzed out of the room and I think everyone was stunned. No one could believe it. But our dream pretty much ended there. Sherry Lansing was stunned and apologized to the room and followed her boss out. The Paramount licensing team was embarrassed to say the least, and of course, they were also realizing they had just lost out on millions of dollars in future licensing revenues too. The Mayor and the redevelopment committee were just depressed I think. But they thanked me for all the efforts I put into it, and for making the meetings with Paramount possible, and then they headed back to Las Vegas.
There you have it, Star Trek fans; the mecca that could have been if only for the limited vision of a small-minded studio CEO who chose not to boldly go where no man had gone before.