The Starship Enterprise Exhibit That Almost Was

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  — Albert Einstein

I came across this article a few months ago. I’d never heard of this project, but it sounds like it could have been pretty awesome….

Back in 1992, Downtown Las Vegas was losing huge crowds and investment capital to the Strip. So, with the financial backing of downtown hotels and casinos, the city held a competition for ideas that would revitalize and “re-establish the downtown core as the center of the action in Las Vegas.” The Goddard Group pitched a plan for a $150 million project to build a full-scale USS Enterprise (1701-A, from the look of it), the interior of which would incorporate “a tour of the ship with all the key areas, plus a restaurant in the crew mess, and there were ride elements including a ‘high-speed travelator that would whisk you from deck to deck.’ They also planned to develop additional attractions as the project went on.”

Rendering of 1st concept for loading guests onto the Starship Enterprise

Rendering of 1st concept for loading guests onto the Starship Enterprise

The inability to include a hotel or casino — which would be a conflict of interest with its backers — was seen as a drawback. But, the various requisite city and studio officials eventually approved. Unfortunately, the roadblock came in the form of Stanley Jaffe, then CEO of Paramount Studios, who would give the final ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to the project. Spirits were high during the final presentation (and the first to Jaffe), and Jaffe congratulated Goddard and the rest of the sponsors on a bold concept, etc. But, recounts Gary Goddard,

“[T]hen [Jaffe] went into a speech that went something like this: “[O]n one hand that sounds exciting. But on another hand, it might not be a great idea for us — for Paramount. 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.”

Jaffe then left the room, leaving everyone else in a haze of (phaser-)stunned disappointment, embarrassment, and depression at the thought of lost revenue and opportunities.

“The Fremont Experience” (named after Fremont Street, I think) ended up being the winning pitch. Instead of “The Starship Enterprise” exhibit, what Trek enthusiasts got was the Las Vegas Hilton’s “Star Trek: The Experience” from Jan. 1998 to Sep. 2008. (Licensing issues have prevented plans to reopen.) I never made it there myself, but I heard mostly good reports from other fans back in my convention-going days.

I don’t know if Jaffe’s decision was the right one, either in terms of financial prudence or protection of reputation. But, with the new attention the franchise is getting due to the current movies and upcoming TV series, I do think Paramount needs to do another big Trek “experience”-type entertainment complex. We are incredibly passionate fans, after all, with a history of spending lots of money on all things Trek. A life-size Enterprise — either 1701-A or -D — from the original series would be a terrific centerpiece, as long as it had several reproductions of the old studio sets for people to walk and climb around on and maybe props to play with. Neither a hands-off museum nor just an amusement park w/ rides and stores will do.

[Note: Follow the above link to the article for more concept art.]

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