Remembering Sydney’s Sega World: The little theme park that couldn’t

A decade following the closure of the indoor theme park, PC World looks at the near non-existent legacy of the ambitious venture

The Sega World facility in Sydney's Darling Harbour district in 1998. Image: Wikipedia.

The Sega World facility in Sydney's Darling Harbour district in 1998. Image: Wikipedia.

Terminating its involvement in the park was no doubt a difficult choice for Sega, but the technology company was overwhelmed with its own financial problems stemming from its lack of success with its Saturn console, which was consistently losing market share to then upstart Sony with its PlayStation console and long-time rival Nintendo with its newly launched 64-bit console, the Nintendo 64. Things were already looking decidedly shaky for Sega when the theme park opened in 1997, as the vendor attempted to merger with Japanese toy maker, Bandai, in that same year. However, when the merger between the two businesses fell through that same year, Sega had no choice but to streamline its operation, and exit out of money losing ventures such as Sega World seemed logical.

The Olympics came and went in 2000, and it was a resounding success for the city of Sydney. As expected, a large amount of revenue was brought in by the influx of visitors during the Games, with local businesses benefiting from the increased number of customers and transactions. However, the hope that the Olympics would help Sega World reach its break even point went unrealised, and the theme park’s management was left with few options following the end of the Games. Realising that not even the hype surrounding the 2000 Summer Olympics was enough to stimulate interest in the theme park, Sega World’s management had no choice but to accept the writing that was on the wall.

The sale of the century

Soon after the Games in 2000, Sega World management made the decision to remove the Mad Bazooka ride and virtual reality attractions in order to make space for a new addition to the facility. A sign placed in front of the redeveloping area informed guests that the new attraction was expected to open in February 2001, and Sega World would remain closed during off peak hours two days a week to facilitate the redevelopment of the area. In an interesting move at the time, all of the arcade cabinets in the video arcade section of Sega World were made “free to play,” which was a welcome addition for many who had held of from playing the games in the past due to the additional cost that was associated with them.

Sega World’s management had shown its intention to continue running the theme park at least into early 2001, as several rides had already been removed to make way for the yet to be announced “Ice World” ice skating rink. However, Sega World would abruptly stop operation in November 2000 before actual construction of the attraction would begin. While some theme parks either close down during off-peak seasons or temporarily to cut down costs until it could reopen again, that would not be the case with Sega World. Once the doors were closed at Sega World, they would remain closed and never reopen again.

While Sega had had the foresight to exit out of the venture slightly ahead of the closure, the remaining parties in the Sega World venture were stuck with a theme park that was too expensive to operate and too difficult to sell off to someone else. Seeing no way out of the predicament and keen to wash its hands of the failed business, Jacfun and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority wasted no time in dissolving the venture. Only months after the closure, an auction was hurriedly organised in March 2001 to sell off the rides and equipment, worth approximately $1 million at the time, that were slowly gathering dust inside of Sega World.

A more appropriate term for the sell off would have been “fire sale,” as Sega World’s management, likely in no mood to negotiate and drag out the dissolution of the theme park following its untimely closure, took any reasonable offer from the 300 or so people that attended the auction. While arcade cabinets such as Daytona USA and others found themselves a new home with private buyers who managed to win them at minimal price, the major rides from Sega World were bought up by foreign and not domestic customers. Although one of the rides had an asking price of $200,000 at the auction, the winning bid of $140,000 was accepted in order to quickly clear of the Sega World facility.

Sonic has left the building

Following the auction, the Sega World facility would remain empty and inactivity for a long time as the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority was considered what to do with the defunct facility. Jacfun had already started looking at turning the Sega World building in an entertainment complex. However, in the two years following the auction, Jacfun did little to carry out its plans for the building, with a McDonald’s and a lone coffee shop being the only businesses that remained operational. As a result of this lack of action, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority would pay $10 million to Jacfun in March 2003 to terminate their 99-year lease of the property.

With Jacfun out of the picture, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority immediately set forward plans to redevelop the Sega World facility that had essentially become a ghost house ever since it closed down in late 2000. Allegations leveled at Jacfun suggested that the empty space left by the defunct theme park, estimated to be more than 70 per cent of the overall building, was keeping both new businesses and visitors out of the facility. Jacfun was also criticised for not maintaining the Sega World building and letting it decay. Thus, the first thing the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority did following the exit of Jacfun was to slightly renovate the Sega World building as it continued to mull its options for the property.

What the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority was actually planning for the Sega World property fell into an overall review of the area that was dubbed “Darling Harbour 2010.” The needs of the public and Sydney as a city had not been met with the Darling Harbour area in the past, and the failure of the Sega World endeavour only compounded the issue. As a result, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority began drawing up plans for a complete overhaul of the area. It was widely speculated at the time as being another wharf-style design that combined restaurants with commercial and residential space.

The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority knew that it needed time to decide how the Sega World facility fit into the 2010 review of Darling Harbour, so it instead focused on upgrading the public areas for the next few years. In the process, the Sega World building would be leased out to an importer and exporter of furniture from China, the Shanghai Group Australia (SGA), sometime in 2005. SGA would turn the empty building into a furniture exhibition warehouse for its wares.

Open for business

After having shut it doors half a decade earlier, the Sega World facility would be publicly open once again. The entry of a new tenant meant that the “SEGA” sign on the top right hand corner of the building had the “E” removed to form the SGA acronym. The statues of famous Sega characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog and others that were located outside of the theme park had already been removed, meaning that there was next to no Sega-branded fittings around to clash with the building’s new tenant.

Over the next three years, the Sega World building would settle into its new role as a furniture showroom for the SGA. It was not quite the glamorous role that Sega, Jacfun and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority had initially imagined for the facility, but it at least brought in a small revenue stream for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority as it continued to plan out the redevelopment of the area. Any visitors who made the trip to the SGA showroom would not find any of the former rides left inside the building, as they had all been cleared out in the 2001 auction. A number of the theme park’s interior fixtures and backdrops remained in place, though most of them were covered up will curtains and carpet tiles.

SGA used the Sega World facility on a continual basis until September 2008, when the Commonwealth Bank entered into a long term commercial lease for the property. The bank planned to use the valuable land, which is located in walking distance to Sydney’s CBD, as the main headquarters for its local employees. The Commonwealth Bank had already set up new and modern workplaces in the Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta regions of Sydney, and Darling Habour office was expected to do the same. As such, the old and outdated design of the Sega World building, which was originally designed to house an indoor theme park, would be torn down and replaced with a new and environmentally sustainable structure better suited for office work.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

PC World

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