Star Trek used to have a pretty big presence in Las Vegas on the strip, with Star Trek: The Experience settled in at the Las Vegas Hilton until it was, unfortunately, scrapped a few years ago. But that was nothing to what almost happened in 1992 when a group of developers got together and tried to build a life-size version of the starship Enterprise right on in Las Vegas downtown. What’s more, it nearly happened, and would have if not for the shortsighted and confusing stance taken by Paramount Pictures.
The story of this epic project was recently revealed by developer Gary Goddard who says that the winner of the 1992 competition to revitalize Las Vegas’s downtown area was not the Fremont Experience which resides there now, but rather Star Trek’s starship Enterprise.
“In 1992 downtown Las Vegas had become a distant second to the Las Vegas Strip. Where at one time, downtown Las Vegas was the center of the action… The loss of business was turning the downtown area into a “ghost town” and something needed to be done quickly. The city needed an attraction – something of enough size and power to bring the people back to the downtown area.”
A number of different ideas were considered but in the end it came down to two plans. The Starship Enterprise, as created by Gary Goddard and his team, or the Fremont Experience lightshow. The Enterprise won out and here’s how Goddard explains his concept for the attraction…
“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.”
They were thinking big. 8th wonder of the world big. The ship would have been as long as the Empire State Building is tall. And they really went into detail to design it. They even worked out a way to support that giant, overhanging disc of the ship using a high-tech scaffolding structure which would make it appear as though it really were freestanding and hovering over the city. It would have looked like this:
“The “big idea” was building the ship itself at full-scale. That was the main attraction. That being said, we also knew we would have to have some kind of “show” on board. So, conceptually, it was to be a “tour” of the ship, with all of the key rooms, chambers, decks, and corridors that we knew from the movie. There was to be the dining area for the ship’s crew (where you could dine in Star Fleet comfort), and other special features. There were also one or two interesting ride elements that we were considering including a high-speed travelator that would whisk you from deck to deck. But we were really just getting into the show aspects when everything came to a head.”
Basically they were literally going to have just about everything the real Enterprise had, even a Turbolift, but OK probably not a Transporter. Everyone was on board. Las Vegas was in, they had the money to build it ($150,000,000 in 1992 dollars… triple that in today’s market), they had the plans. They even had a licensing agreement nearly set with Paramount, it was only pending the chairman’s final approval. They had everything they needed to create the most amazing attraction the world has ever seen, ” a world-class iconic project that would become an international sensation from the moment it was announced.” And then this happened…
“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.”
And with that, Mr. Jaffe in a single moment, destroyed about five months of work by a host of people, and killed one of the greatest ideas of all time.”
Short version: Even though everyone else at Paramount was on board, Paramount’s chairman Stanley Jaffe was worried that it would fail. More importantly he was worried about how a failure might make him look bad so he killed it rather than take the risk.
In response the city went with the Fremont Street project and that’s the downtown Las Vegas you’ll see today.
They could have had this:
And instead they have this:
Next time you’re there look up at the glitzy video panels above your head and imagine looking out at the city from the bridge of the Enterprise instead.
Where would the Las Vegas Enterprise have ended up on our Star Trek Rankings if they’d made it? Now we’ll never know.