Today, Miracle Strip Amusement Park is only a fond memory for many people that visited Panama City Beach in the 20th century. Although, it only lasted four years into the 21st century, Miracle Strip Amusement Park was the most successful attraction on the Gulf Coast of Florida for 40 years.
For many years it ranked in the top ten most attended attractions in Florida.
On a site directly adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, the park was built on a gamble. In a time when roller coasters were rapidly fading in popularity, the investors in MSAP elected to risk the purchase of a brand new, custom-designed roller coaster.
The new coaster was called ‘Starliner’ and, in 1963, the Starliner was the first coaster built in Florida. It was an “out-and-back” style designed by John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. The Starliner remained the top draw at the park for its entire lifespan.
The rapidly growing tourist trade in the sixties at Panama City Beach assured that Miracle Strip Amusement Park was a success from the outset. The Starliner proved that including a roller coaster was a wise choice.
In the early years, the rides outlying the Starliner were provided by traveling carnivals that would bring their rides to the beach for their off-season, which was the spring and summer months.
The up-and-coming park came to the attention of Ed Nielson who owned Fair Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Nielson joined the partners at MSAP and moved his rides and arcade concession to Panama City Beach.
Over the years, as shareholders sold out, the park became fully owned by the James Lark Sr. family.
The final season ended in September 2004. Many factors contributed to the park’s demise. There was a downturn in family bookings due to area’s bad reputation caused by rowdy students on spring break. Probably the greatest factor was the condo-boom of the nineties.
The land where the park sat had far greater profit potential as high-rise condominiums, and in the end, it was pure economics that broke the hearts of so many people.
I think, if you stand by the Gulf water on a clear night and listen very carefully, you can barely hear the screams of ghost riders as the Starliner falls headlong down that first drop.