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Wednesday, 25 March 2009 20:47

Ghost Town coaster opening faces big hurdles

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Ghost Town investors are banking on finally getting the park’s Cliffhanger rollercoaster up and running in order to attract visitors and increase cash flow.

But the park has miles to go before it can open its centerpiece ride. Not only does it lack state inspections, but also funding to get the coaster into compliance. The amusement park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with millions in unpaid bills.

Last week, Ghost Town president and CEO Steve Shiver told The Smoky Mountain News that there was one test left to run on the coaster before it can pass inspection. He made a similar assertion last fall that the roller coaster was close to completion.

However, Jonathan Brooks, bureau chief of amusement inspections with the Department of Labor, told a different story last week.

“That’s an incorrect statement,” Brooks said. “They’ve got multiple tests to do.”

Shiver later said he meant that there was only one big test left to run on the coaster, not including some of the minor inspections that still need to be completed. Syntax aside, one thing is clear — much work still remains to get the coaster up and running.

First and foremost, a major series of tests involving the restraints and seat design of the roller coaster cars must be performed. But Larry Moyers, owner of Rotational Motion which has rehabbed the coaster, says he won’t do it until the park pays down some of its debt to his company.

“Right now, I’m owed enough money that I really need to see some sort of hope that I’m going to get paid,” Moyers said. “For me to invest anymore in it without payment would be foolish.”

According to Moyers, that amounts to about $150,000 for work done between April and August of last year.

“In the past six months, I’ve struggled because of the economy, and being owed that much from one customer is huge,” he said.

Moyers says he needs the funds to pay his engineers who worked on the coaster.

Getting Moyers on board is just one step in opening the coaster. The coaster is designed with lap bars instead of over the shoulder restraints, because Moyers’ engineer determined that with the design of the coaster, a shoulder harness would actually cause riders harm.

But Ghost Town’s owners still have to convince state inspectors to OK the lap bar. Inspectors want to see several destructive and load tests on the lap bar and seat designs before they sign off on the Cliffhanger.

Moyers said that, like himself, state Department of Labor Bureau Chief Jonathan Brooks was skeptical.

“He was in the same place I was when I started this project,” Moyers said. “We had to convince him that over the shoulder harness was not viable and we shouldn’t go that way.”

But Brooks still doesn’t appear to be completely convinced.

“At this point in time, I don’t know that over the shoulder restraints are required or not required,” Brooks told The Smoky Mountain News.

Brooks said that Ghost Town’s owners need to initiate the inspection process immediately if they hope to have the coaster ready by the proposed May 15 opening date. Though Shiver said back in November that the results of more than 400 test runs of the coaster had been sent to the state, Brooks said he hasn’t received them.

“I do not have any testing results or inspections from Ghost Town as we sit here today,” Brooks said last week. He also said no request for inspection had yet been submitted to him.

“This is our busy season trying to get stuff done, and the sooner they can schedule, the better off they would be,” Brooks said.

Communication with Ghost Town during the inspection process has been inconsistent, Moyers and Brooks revealed, in contrast to Shiver’s past statements that the park owners have maintained constant contact with state officials.

Brooks said he hadn’t heard anything out of Ghost Town in months until he corresponded with Moyers and a park maintenance worker in late January or early February.

Moyers said he waited so long to hear from Ghost Town that he went ahead and booked other work.

“We had a meeting in November saying we could make a spring opening if we received payment,” Moyers said. “We gave them a very clear timeline and we didn’t get money or a phone call until Feb. 20. The problem was, I had other work lined up that I was committed to.”

Brooks expressed doubts about Ghost Town’s ability to get its rides up and running by its proposed May 15 opening date if it doesn’t act quickly.

“The closer they get to the May opening date without calling for inspections, the more likely stuff may not make it,” Brooks said. “All total, from start to finish, if we started today, we would be right on top of May 15.”

Shiver admitted that the roller coaster may not be up and running by the proposed opening date.

“It may not be day one that it’s open,” he said. He said the investors will likely have to go back to the bankruptcy court and petition to increase the line of emergency credit in order to perform the necessary tests on the ride.

Doing so would be worthwhile, Moyers said.

“I think it’s important to the future of the park to get the coaster open,” he said. “I think if they try to open it without the coaster, it would be throwing good money after bad.”

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