Courtesy of Parabounce
Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 | 2 a.m.
- Las Vegas’ next thrill: High-flying balloon ‘bumper cars’ (Nov. 17, 2010)
Nevada’s economy killed Stephen Meadows’ plans the first time around.
The recovery is gaining steam, however, so Meadows is once again seeking a spot to erect a domed structure for his invention, the Parabounce, either on the Strip or in downtown Las Vegas.
Parabounce combines an oversized helium balloon with a pedal-powered bike — a Parabike — that hangs below and allows the pedaler to go up and down, left or right.
Meadows' gizmos have flown thousands into the air at various events around the country — in 1999, one floated into Rockefeller Center in New York, picked up TV personality Katie Couric, and lifted her 100 feet into the air.
All of those have been outside. Meadows wants the first indoor Parabounce site — a Paradome — to be erected in Las Vegas. A permanent, indoor site is preferred because helium, a byproduct of natural gas, is expensive. Helium expenses can be minimized in a controlled environment because the balloons stay inflated much longer.
Meadows, who has been fascinated by lighter-than-air flight since childhood, said that once he finds a site, the 200-foot-high inflatable dome covering 4 to 5 acres could be completed within a year.
He has enlisted the help of Las Vegas attorney Matt Callister to find a dome site. Callister admits he’s pushing Meadows to bring it downtown because “that’s where everything is happening.”
Callister wouldn’t say where that might be, but several acres of land lie empty adjacent to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Symphony Park.
Then again, sites near the Strip were touted just a year or so ago as spots for a future stadium.
Meadows said project costs would vary based on the site and other factors. He said he’d negotiate for a five-year lease with an option to renew.
Meadows, an architect and former actor who was once married to television personality Leeza Gibbons, said he has put several million dollars into the project. Callister said that other entities are “also committing more than adequate funds” to build the dome. The cost could range from $15 million to $20 million.
Belying his 62 years, Meadows' voice gets childlike with excitement when talking about the project.
“We can put in surround sound and clouds on the ground so people feel they are really above the clouds,” he says. “Then there’s a harness that’s similar to a parachute harness and, for adrenaline junkies, they can go up 150 feet and spin 200, 300 times, if that’s their thing.”
The Parabounce itself looks like something you’d see in a Saturday morning cartoon. Its design is simple: a balloon about 20 feet in diameter is tethered to a Parabike, which looks like a stout, short airplane. The driver has a seat, steering wheel and pedals.
The Parabounce is ballasted to equal the rider’s weight, so it goes up with barely a push and returns to ground just as softly.
Meadows said a child as young as 8 and a 98-year-old great-grandmother have ridden them. To showcase their safety, Meadows is hoping to ride a balloon over a portion of the Grand Canyon, perhaps coinciding with the grand opening of the Paradome.
The dome will include digital images of mountains, the Las Vegas skyline, outer space and other skyscapes projected onto the dome’s walls.
“When people come in, they get a completely new and otherworldly experience,” he said.
Parabounce has been set up at many events through the years. People have waited 45 minutes or more for a ride. Meadows said he has offered people the chance to take a number and return when it was their turn.
“But they say, ‘Oh, we just want to watch until it’s our turn,’” he said with a laugh.
Of course, getting the project off the ground is going to take some doing. Meadows received preliminary approval for a Paradome site near the Strip in 2008.
At that time, “Parabounce was met with a market … that fell apart,” said Lisa Mayo Deriso, who is handling public relations for Meadows.
The economic landscape is slowly changing; a recent report by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority touted a record 39.7 million tourists in 2012. By 500,000 people, that beat the previous record set in 2007, right around the time Meadows' first time trying to bring his Paradome to Las Vegas.
Parabounce should be affordable for most. Meadows said a ticket would likely cost $20-$25 for a five-minute ride.
While the ride is a for-profit venture, Meadows said he is working out a plan to donate much of his profit to charity. His interest in giving stems from a visit to the children’s ward of a hospital when he played football for the University of Georgia some 40 years ago.
“There were these kids pinned down by the arms and legs who had to be attended to for every bodily function, and it just broke my heart,” he said.
Through the years, Meadows has volunteered in Mother Teresa’s home for the destitute and dying in Peru; and his company, One Giant Leap, sponsored a 2000 fundraiser in Los Angeles co-chaired by Al Gore and actor Sidney Poitier. In one day it raised $780,000, all of it donated to four charities.
“At the end of our lives, we’re either givers or takers; we’ve either done one or the other,” he said. “A big part of me is making certain that I help underprivileged people or those with physical challenges. This is part of that.”