Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A federal judge considering trademark infringement allegations against the new owners of the former Hard Rock Park in South Carolina refused Friday to delay the planned weekend reopening, saying any delay would be "catastrophic" for the struggling attraction.
The $400 million — the largest single tourism investment in South Carolina history — is set to reopen Saturday as Freestyle Music Park. The 55-acre park opened as Hard Rock Park last year but closed in September when its owners filed for bankruptcy protection
A corporation organized by the park's founders has sued the new owners, arguing that FPI MB Entertainment would be taking advantage its creative touches — including layout and ride design — and asked that the reopening be delayed.
But Delaware U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell disagreed, writing in his 29-page opinion that HRP Creative Services had not made strong enough arguments to put the park's relaunch on hold.
"HRP has failed to demonstrate that it will suffer harm," Dalzell wrote. "By contrast, FPI's harm from a preliminary injunction would be catastrophic and probably fatal to the new park."
Dalzell heard arguments Wednesday over the injunction request. In a complaint filed last month, HRP attorneys had argued the park's new owners had not made enough changes.
"The supposed 'rebranding' of the Park by Defendant is minimal and will not remedy its infringement of HRP Creative Services' intellectual property," HRP attorneys wrote. "Defendant intends merely to change the names of a small handful of rides … but retain the highly distinctive and stylized themes."
In response, attorneys for FPI denied the allegations, arguing that the very trademarks HRP is seeking to protect became part of the bankruptcy estate when the company filed for protection.
Any failure by the park would put more than 1,000 employees out of work, Dalzell wrote. The park is located in Horry County, which posted a 11.2 percent jobless rate last month.
On Friday, state officials announced that South Carolina's overall 11.5 percent unemployment had set a new high. It was also the third-highest rate in the nation, behind Michigan and Oregon.
Some Hard Rock Park attractions had been aimed at older riders, with one dark ride based on the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" evoking psychedelic images. Keeping a focus on music, FPI has said it plans to create a more family friendly atmosphere, adding country, Christian and disco to the rock repertoire.
In addition to changing all of its live shows, Dalzell said FPI officials have also:
— Covered a painting of a large marijuana leaf with a sunburst;
— Removed ads for sexual services from a red British telephone booth;
— Changed a location called the "Punk Pit" into a "fun, bright, children friendly area;"
— Replaced drug references from the "Magic Mushroom" ride with butterflies.
"It was evident to … the new owners that Hard Rock Park had adult elements containing drug and sexual references that FPI considered inappropriate for children and families," wrote Dalzell, adding that FPI had spent more than $3 million on rebranding.
Attorneys on both sides did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
HRP has also asked that the trademark infringement lawsuit be transferred to federal court in South Carolina. But Dalzell has not yet ruled on that request.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.