Balto. firm to build world's tallest indoor roller coaster in China

When it opens next year, the Great Mall of China near Beijing will be the biggest retail and entertainment center in the world, with 15 million square feet of shops, a theme park, a water park — and the world's tallest indoor roller coaster, imported from Baltimore.

The still-unnamed "super launch" coaster will be designed and built by Premier Rides, a company that specializes in roller coasters, water rides and other amusement park attractions.

The mall's developer, the Berjaya Great Mall of China Co. Ltd., commissioned Premier to work on the project earlier this year after meeting the firm's president, Jim Seay, last June during a Maryland trade mission to China.

The design is almost complete, with construction about to start at facilities in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.

Premier Rides, which has built attractions for clients such as Disney Hong Kong, Universal Studios, Six Flags and Paramount Parks, has designed what will be the signature attraction at the mall. The center, touted as the largest mixed-use development project in the world, will be built on 76 acres near Beijing International Airport in Yanjiao City.

The roller-coaster project allows Premier to gain a stronger foothold in China's rapidly expanding theme-park market, said Seay, a former project engineer for Hughes Aircraft's stealth missile technology and Premier's president since 1996. The company has built high-tech outdoor attractions in Dalian, China, as well as for Disney Hong Kong.

"The Chinese market is extremely important to a company like Premier Rides," Seay said. "The growth in the Asia region in general is so significant right now. They're going from an environment where they had very limited entertainment opportunities … to being a very strong, middle-class society that desires entertainment. It has created an environment where parks are opening every few months now."

Seay said Premier's client base in Asia has been expanding beyond traditional theme-park operators to media companies and conglomerates.

Premier is known for a technology that can launch roller coasters at well over 100 miles per hour in less than four seconds. Seay said the new coaster would use the so-called magnetic drive technology and would be inside one of the largest structures in Asia.

For competitive reasons, the mall developer does not plan to release additional details about the ride until later this year, the company said in a statement.

Premier's typical attractions cost in the $5 million to $10 million range to build, Seay said, adding, "We expect [the China coaster] to be above that when it is completed."

David Lipnicky, a spokesman for American Coaster Enthusiasts, an international roller coaster club, said the tallest indoor coaster — at 136 feet — is the Mindbender at Galaxyland in the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. The tallest outdoor coaster, at 454 feet, is the Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, he said.

Indoor coasters can be expensive — especially if they include special effects — with prices in the $15 million to $25 million range for the most state-of-the-art coasters, Lipnicky said. An indoor roller coaster could be built in the $3 million to $6 million range if it did not include construction costs for the building or special effects, he said.

"I would hope [the new China coaster] would come in at least 150 feet tall — that's a nice milestone level that a park and manufacturer could promote and that could spur another entity, mall or amusement park to say, 'We could go taller,' " Lipnicky said. "It's visually staggering to see a coaster 200 feet tall for most people."

Lipnicky said that China was one of the few spots where coaster projects continued during the recession and prolonged economic slump. He added that new projects were now under way in Europe and the United States.

Seay last year took part in a trade mission led by Gov. Martin O'Malley to China, South Korea and Vietnam. Premier is one of a handful of companies to generate sales or business partnerships as a result of the 10-day mission.

Seay had had no contact with the mall developer until he arrived in China, said Brad Gillenwater, the Asia regional manager with the Office of International Investment and Trade at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

"We introduced Premier Rides to this property developer back in June and now … months later they have come to an agreement with this massive mall property developer," Gillenwater said.

Kevin Tan, of Berjaya Great Mall of China, promised an attraction to impress even the most fearless of thrill seekers.

"As a signature attraction of the Great Mall of China, it will certainly set the bar high not only for this project but for the whole Asia region," Tan said in a statement.

Premier supplies all manner of roller coasters, according to the company's website, including loop coasters, steel coasters, wood coasters, water coasters and pipeline coasters, as well as observation wheels, towers, water rides and custom-designed attractions.