Tuesday, November 15, 2016

INTERVIEW: Kyle Griffith: Seattle’s Own Walt Disney

Miners Landing in Seattle
Miner's Landing at Pier 57 in Seattle. 
Meet the Man Behind Seattle’s Newest Attraction: "Wings Over Washington"

How many times have you visited Disneyland and thought, “Boy, it sure would be cool to have an attraction like back home?” This is a story about a man who not only thought that same sentiment, but actually built his own version of the Disney ride, Soarin’, for Seattle’s waterfront.

Kyle Griffith is the son of Hal Griffith, the man who transformed Pier 57 into Miner’s Landing, a profitable tourist destination with two main restaurants (The Crab Pot and Fisherman’s Restaurant), retail gift shops, separate food court, an old fashioned carousel and the iconic Great Wheel. But as all good stories begin, the history of the pier had its humble beginnings.

“I think it was 1968 when my dad started down here,” says Kyle. “He was a real industrious guy. He came from a very poor background…I don’t even know if he graduated high school. I think he did, but he definitely didn’t go to college.”

Hal’s first business venture was operating a salvage mart on the pier where the Pirate’s Plunder shop is now. Hal would go down to Harbor Island when the boats were unloaded and he would load up the things the they were going to throw away including ropes, nets, broken things and extra items that got shipped there by accident.

"He would go load up a truck and put these things he got for free for sale. That was his start here. His whole life has been developing this pier to what it is now,” says Kyle.

Kyle and his brother, Troy, (who oversees the pier’s restaurants) have been working with their father their whole lives and there is a family element in just about every facet of Miner’s Landing. For instance, the inspiration for the Crab Pot Restaurant was born out of family events when Kyle and Troy were just kids.

“We would go up to the San Juan Islands with some other families. We would go off and go crabbing, another family would go off and go fishing, another would go clamming and oysters and another would go shrimping and then we would all meet up and dump it all on the table and eat. And if you go to the Crab Pot, you get a bib and we put the food on the middle of the table and it’s the same sort of thing.”

Today, the goal of Miner’s Landing is to “show off the Northwest” to tourists and locals alike by highlighting events from the Great Gold Rush and Native American history.

Like his father, Kyle has a love for all things Disney. Hal would take his family down to Disneyland numerous times, but unlike other families, Kyle had to “work” before going on any of the rides.

“I couldn’t go on any rides until after noon because he would have to study all of the concessions and the retail and I would have to make notes that the popcorn was $3 and whatever was whatever…” says Kyle.

“What kids goes to Disneyland and has to work?” I asked.

“I know, but he would let me go on rides after we got that done. But even today I still take mental notes. What they sell, how they sell it, the staff’s uniforms. That wholesome image … that family-friendly environment … the ice cream, popcorn, cotton candy, all that is what we try to do here. That is our role model. That is major league baseball and we are the minor league. Disneyland inspired us and we thought, why not make this ride that same type of quality?”

Seattle Great Wheel
The Seattle Great Wheel was installed in June of 2012 and it was all Hal’s idea. Today, it has become of symbol of Seattle on par with the Space Needle. But the pier’s newest attraction, Wings Over Washington, is Kyle’s baby (with the support of his family of course.) It’s patterned off of Disney’s California Adventure’s “Soarin’” ride. Initially, the project was just supposed to be a simple theater that would swap films every month or so. But Kyle couldn’t stop thinking about Soarin.’ He wanted to create a more immersive adventure.

“We tried to make it like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Hopefully this will become like that iconic ride where we won’t want to change the movie because people will come back years later and want to see the movie that they remember. When we go back to Disneyland, we tend to go back to the rides that we went on as kids and we don’t want them to change, you know?”

Kyle gives a lot of credit to Super 78 the finished production. “I can’t thank them enough. They are really talented. Brent Young is the best director that we could have ever had.” Kyle and family met with different film companies that were all talented, some had even won Academy Awards, but in the end, Kyle chose to work with Brent and his team.

“A lot of the people we interviewed proposed CGI, but Brent was more like, ‘Let’s get a helicopter up there, let’s get a camera on the nose.’… Those guys spent way more hours than what was written in our contract because it became a ‘love thing.’”

Kyle also says that without the Great Wheel project, there wouldn’t be a Wings Over Washington “flying theater.”

“We learned a lot going through the experience with our team. With the permitting and…so many things. We just took the same team and went to a different game. And then we added people that we were missing.” Kyle is a strong believer in operating as a team to create a great project. “We found the best people and then let them have ownership for their part of the ride in that they aren’t being bossed…they want to make it awesome because it is their thing too.”

Wings Over WashingtonWalt Disney himself would be very proud of Kyle’s ride. Though the ride system is the same as “Soarin’,” Wings Over Washington is uniquely the Griffith’s own. Every element of the attraction is themed out from the authentic totem poles that grace the entrance to the authentic native America music that plays throughout. There are elements that will remind you Disneyland’s “Tiki Room” as well. The attraction will awaken all of your senses with sights, sounds, smells and even splash or two from the northwest waters will be experienced on the your short adventure as you “fly” around Washington following an Eagle. And when you’re down, you can purchase the official Wings Over Washington photo book as a souvenir as you exit the ride.

But Kyle isn’t finished yet. He’s already planning his next additions to the pier including a “shooting gallery” and possibly an audio tour.

“We’re not a night club – it’s family thing. Want to make it safe and wholesome,” says Kyle.

Read more about this attraction here!

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