Back in the early '90s, Las Vegas' downtown district—the original home of Sin City's gambling mecca—was looking to draw tourists away from the glitzy Strip, and they started fielding pitches from people with big ideas. And nothing was bigger than a life-size version of Capt. Kirk's ship that you could walk around in. And it came this close to happening.
When the city of Las Vegas put out the word that they were holding a competition for the downtown Vegas redevelopment, Gary Goddard of the Goddard Group thought that it'd be a fantastic—and lucrative—idea to channel the public's love for Star Trek into a giant attraction that, if done well, would bring visitors by the transport-full.
"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. ...
"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 Starfleet 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."
All of which sounds awesome, right? A total no-brainer, provided that the Vegas committee liked it and thought they could afford it. Which they did and informed Goddard that the Star Trek Enterprise was their choice and that they'd like to move forward. All they needed now was Paramount's final approval. Goddard didn't think that'd be a problem; he'd already gotten the green light from Paramount's licensing division as well as the studio's president of production, Sherry Lansing. There was one man left to convince: Paramount's chairman, Stanley Jaffe.
I'm sure you realize that, since there's no life-size Enterprise in Vegas, that meeting didn't go well. As Goddard recalls, it was a disaster:
"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."
The redevelopment committee shifted their focus to the runner-up, the Fremont Street Experience, which is what graces Vegas' downtown today. After Jaffe left Paramount, the studio would later bring Star Trek to Las Vegas, but on a significantly smaller scale, with Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton—a sort of mini-theme park with Quark's Bar, an interactive ride and a gift shop, which was opened in 1998 and closed 10 years later.
As far as missed opportunities go, though, this one ... this is a doozy.