Jenny and Teddy Meeks sat outside at Pier Park to share a quiet meal without their three teenage children. The night was clear along Panama City Beach; not far away, waves were lapping ever so slowly.
Teddy, a wholesale jeweler, looked at the shops and restaurants and observed, "There's nothing here for kids."
That night, he began considering how to add a new dimension to Pier Park, a $300 million development with more than 1 million square feet of open-air shopping, dining and entertainment. Open since 2008, the development sports colors reminiscent of Key West and architecture from Old Florida.
Initially, he thought a Ferris wheel might work well in a patch of grass just beyond the development's theater. Its cost – typically from $250,000 to $500,000 – was too pricey to gamble on, so Teddy began searching for a carousel.
With a few dozen clicks of the mouse, he found the carousel that had been at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, a landmark a few miles east of Pier Park. The old merry-go-round was stashed in a tractor trailer. After 40 years, the park had closed in 2004 to give way to a condominium development that never left the drawing boards. The site today is random patches of concrete and scattered trees.
On the day the 1964 Allan Herschell carousel was moved, Teddy led the parade of workers waiting to witness history being unpacked. "Every piece was there," said Meeks, who rode the carousel as an infant.
With the merry-go-round's resurrection, Miracle Strip at Pier Park was born.
Meeks said he considered the undertaking "a good opportunity to let our kids learn about business and customer service." Starting in 2009, some beach visitors rode the carousel for the first time; others had been among more than 20 million who had ridden the carousel during its long run at the original Miracle Strip.
A year after the carousel's revival, Pier Park officials asked the Meeks to consider adding a Ferris wheel. The couple sought Miracle Strip's original ride, which, they learned, had been moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., and was not for sale.
Undeterred, Teddy found in storage in California an exact replica of the Miracle Strip's 50-foot-high, 16-bucket 1975 Ferris wheel. He bought the ride and had it shipped to northwest Florida, thus doubling the amusement park's population of one.
The couple later added two additional rides from the Original Miracle Strip, a 1985 balloon ride and a 1952 plane ride, both refurbished before being installed. Operating on about one-tenth of the land that was Miracle Strip, the park now includes a 1975 Eli Bridge Scrambler and a 1991 Sellner Tilt-a-Whirl, both reminiscent of rides at the original park.
"Teddy and I have no experience in the amusement park industry, which is probably why we have gone about it thinking outside the box," Jenny said of the park's popularity.
With a half-dozen rides and a Butterfly Pavilion, the couple spends most evenings at the park, which is open year round, except for a few weeks in January.
Said a 12-year-old boy smitten by the Tilt-a-Whirl: "My mom always told me about going to Miracle Strip when she was young, and now I am riding some of the same rides."
Darting to another ride, he called over his shoulder, "This is one of the best places in the world."
As crowds roamed in the background, children circled on vintage biplanes and parents steadied their toddlers atop carousel horses, Jenny considered their creation.
"For us, it's fun, it's really fun," she said. "Our goal is for this to be a place with a great family atmosphere. We want it to be an amusement park of yesteryear, a place where people can come and step back in time."
If You Go
Miracle Strip at Pier Park
400 Pier Park Dr, Panama City Beach