Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Detailed Look at the New Miracle Strip @ Pier Park - Opening April 2014

Each season we have many new rides and attractions to celebrate and look forward to, but it isn't often that a park picks up and moves down the road a couple hundred feet!  Miracle Strip @ Pier Park is doing just that in 2014, and it's all in the name of growth.  We've been covering some news from the park as they've made progress on the expansion here at NPN, excitedly watching as they announced new details.

Miracle Strip @ Pier Park began in 2009 when Jenny and Teddy Meeks purchased the original Carousel that was still sitting at the former site of Miracle Strip Amusement Park and reopened it in Pier Park, a large outdoor shopping center in Panama City Beach.  The popularity of the ride led to the purchase of two others from the shuttered Miracle Strip Amusement Park, which had closed after 40 years of operation in 2004.  Though contained to a small 1.2 acre space, Miracle Strip @ Pier Park thrived and was able to add new "vintage" rides each season.  Before long, and with even more growth potential apparent, Miracle Strip @ Pier Park need to move and stretch its legs, and luckily there was open space just down the road.

The original 1.2 acre site © Miracle Strip @ Pier Park
That, as a brief version, gets us generally to where we are today - Miracle Strip @ Pier Park has closed its doors at the original location, and is fully immersed in the move/build of the new park.  To get some details on the new park I spoke with Jenny Meeks, who along with her husband Teddy own Miracle Strip @ Pier Park and are the driving forces behind the move/expansion.

One of the greatest aspects of moving Miracle Strip @ Pier Park is the addition of space - the new park will open on around 14 acres, almost 12 times larger than the original park.  "At this park we will be offering all of the things that we have been missing due to limitations and out-growing the property we were on for 5 years: great food, fun games, more thrilling rides, a water play area in which to cool down, and beautiful trees to give much needed shade," Mrs. Meeks points out.  "The park will have meandering walkways among beautiful landscaping and flowers, with touches of artwork and decoration here and there amidst the lights, smells, and sounds of a park from yesteryear."

The Tilt-a-Whirl in its new home © Miracle Strip @ Pier Park
The hope is that visitors to Miracle Strip @ Pier Park feel as though they've taken a step back in time, almost as if they were visiting a seaside park of years gone by.  Naturally, and not by coincidence, the direct comparison is to the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park (MSAP).  Mrs. Meeks understands that while honoring the park is important, they are not simply rebuilding it.

"Teddy and I have great respect for the Larks (owners of the original MSAP) and the wonderful park they created and devoted their lives to for 40 years on Panama City Beach. We know we can never replicate or come close to recreating their original park but hope we are successful in creating a special place for families to come and create new memories with new generations that were not able to experience the original MSAP."  It also sounds like the park's move has had a lot of local support, not only by fans but also the government: "Mayor Gayle O'berst of Panama City Beach and City Manager Mario Ginsbert have been instrumental in helping us get this new park built and we have appreciated their dedication to helping Miracle Strip @ Pier Park move to our new, larger location," says Meeks.

The location of the new park - you can see the old one in the upper left.
Scheduled to open in April of 2014, the new park will offer a substantially larger assortment of rides than was able to fit before.  A stream and wetlands divide the new park into North and South halves, with the entrance area being located off of Powell Adams Drive.  Miracle Strip @ Pier Park is building a roughly 130 foot long by 13 foot wide wooden bridge that will cross the wetlands to connect the two halves.

The Southern half of the park will contain the parking area and main entrance gates and ticket booths.  The park's architect, Jim Roberson of JRA Architects, created this view of what will greet guests:

© Jim Roberson / JRA Architects
In addition to the facilities needed for the entrance area the Southern half will also have many of the property's kiddie rides.  These will include the original MSAP Carousel, the 1949 Kiddie Car Ride, 1958 Red Baron, 1959 Boat Ride and some brand new additions as well.  These include a 1937 Caterpillar ride - the park's oldest and seen here being refurbished on the left - a set of Tea Cups from 1970, new 'dry' Boats from 1959 and Swing Planes from 1957.  All the rides continue the tradition of being the same or very similar to ones that operated at the original MSAP.

Via YouTube
It goes without saying that it gets pretty hot in Panama City Beach, so the new water play area, seen above, is going sure to be a big success.  Miracle Strip @ Pier Park purchased it from King Richards Family Fun Park (Naples, Florida) when it closed and now like their other rides it too will have a second shot at life.  The area features several waterfall mushrooms, two small slides, and plenty of other activities all set in a very shallow pool of water.

Service Buildings © Miracle Strip @ Pier Park
Miracle Strip @ Pier Park is also excited to be able to offer a more robust selection of food items in its new home, and a food court area will be the final item located on the Southern half of the park.  Different vendors will provide quite a selection, including "the best corndogs in Florida, gourmet hamburgers, exotic tacos from Gourmet by the Bay, Fresh Catch Seafood, Gyro King, Candyland Candies, 3 Brothers Pizza, and gourmet French Crepes & Brown Cow Ice Cream."  Like most aspects of Miracle Strip @ Pier Park, the food selection is distinctly unique.

The Riptide being rebuilt off-site for refurbishment © Miracle Strip @ Pier Park
On the other side of the bridge is the Northern half of the park, and this is where most of the larger rides are going to be located.  The biggest is Riptide, a Galaxy roller coaster that is similar to one that was once located at the original MSAP.  The roller coaster, dating to 1974, has been totally refurbished and received a new blue and yellow color scheme.  It will provide a thrilling experience, though not one that will prove too intense for younger riders.

Moving over from the existing rides at Pier Park are the Balloon Race, Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler, Sea Dragon and Ferris Wheel - all will be located among the trees in the Northern half of the park.

© Miracle Strip @ Pier Park
Four additional new adult sized rides will also make home in this section as well, all of which are vintage versions of attractions that could once be found at the original MSAP.  The two above are especially fun - on the left is a Rock O Planes, and old-school contraption that lets riders travel like a Ferris wheel, but offers plenty of possible inversions along the way.  On the right is the Bullet, another classic high speed ride that's sure to get the attention of everyone passing by.

© Miracle Strip @ Pier Park
A Trabant, the same style of spinning and undulating flat ride that was located inside Dante's Inferno at the original MSAP, will be new as well.  While it will not be enclosed at Pier Park, it will still bring back plenty of fond memories.

Miracle Strip @ Pier Park was able to find a great set of Bumper Cars up North in Vancouver, and they have already taken up residency on the Northern side of the property.

The Northern half will also have an amphitheater with adjacent stage for performances and other amenities.

In total there will be nine new rides at the expanded park, five for adults and four for children.  When added to the original attractions that are being moved, Miracle Strip @ Pier Park will offer nearly twenty vintage rides - a claim that not many parks can make!

An exciting aspect of Miracle Strip @ Pier Park will be the admission structure, which includes "unlimited riding armbands, individual tickets, and books of tickets for customers that want to ride or play on the water playground."  The park will have free admission, something that makes it a natural gathering place, and a welcome one at that.

Really, the thought behind the park is not simply an amusement park that hearkens back to a time gone by, but also as a place for the community to gather.  Along those lines Mrs. Meeks says "our park will be used by the community as a place to come together and celebrate the local arts of school bands, choruses, art clubs, church choirs, and theater. We want the local charities to use it for 5k run
fundraisers, adopt-a-pet, and walk-a-thons. Our pathways are perfect for parades of all sorts without having to shut down public roads. Because we are locally owned and operated, we can help the local clubs, schools, families, and churches have a family friendly place to have events, get-togethers, field trips, and reunions."  How wonderful is that!

As many are aware Miracle Strip @ Pier Park is planning on resurrecting the famous Starliner wooden coaster, which was moved to Cypress Gardens after the original MSAP closed - but was disassembled when Legoland Florida moved in.  Work on that plan is continuing, with the ride now owned by the park and some aspects already being worked on.

An Original Starliner Car © Miracle Strip @ Pier Park
The park is currently "meeting with wooden Roller Coaster builders to discuss the layout, engineering, and rebuilding of the Starliner.  We hope to have plans finalized and to the state and city for approval and permitting by the end of the summer to break ground by the end of the year."  It sounds like there's great interest in having the ride reopen, as they also report that "Pepsi and Buffalo Rock are National Sponsors of the Starliner and have committed financially to help rebuild it."

Mrs. Meeks continues, "we have already jumped the hurdle of having the Conditional Use Zoning approved for the 2.5 acres for the Starliner location and the approval of height variances to build the coaster to its original height by the city of Panama City Beach."  The current plan is still to have the Starliner up and running again for patrons in 2015.  When complete, it will run along the Western boundary of the new property.

While the addition of the Starliner is exciting, there's so much to look forward to when the park opens this April.  If only we were a bit closer to Panama City Beach we would be sure to visit and take in some vintage amusements - but even if I can't make sure I'm sure that plenty of people will.  Best wishes to Miracle Strip @ Pier Park on their grand reopening, and many thanks to Jenny Meeks for sharing with us here at NPN!

You can follow along with plenty of updates on the new park from Miracle Strip @ Pier Park's Facebook page.