Grateful Dead's $40 Million Terrapin Station Stalled

Plans to build elaborate museum/performance space are on hold while search continues for site.

Grateful-Deadheads may have to wait longer than they thought for the grand opening of the ambitious Terrapin Station museum project, dedicated specifically to their favorite hippie-band and its legions of rabid disciples.

Nearly a year after the announcement of plans to build a $40 million multimedia-shrine to the defunct, San Francisco-based psychedelic-rock group, a location is still not secured and a tentative ground-breaking date is not yet penciled in.

As it now stands, the project -- which was originally expected to be completed by the end of December 1999 -- might not even get underway before the new millennium, according to Gary Lambert, editor of the Grateful Dead Almanac, the band's official newsletter.

Plans announced last year called for the museum, named after one of the Dead's most popular albums (released in 1977), to include a state-of-the-art theater, a multi-sensory psychedelic dance-hall called "The Wheel," a pair of live-music venues and several rooms of archival Dead material and music.

"Basically, the only thing standing in the way right now is closing on a site," said Lambert, who said he has participated in numerous planning meetings for the museum. The Dead newsletter -- sent free of charge to more than 200,000 fans -- printed several artists' depictions of what portions of the museum might look like and predicted that a home for Terrapin Station would be decided on soon.

Despite the Dead's reputation for attracting a ragged crew of tie-dyed followers -- affectionately knows as Deadheads -- a representative for the office of San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said they are eager to help the band's pet project find a home.

The mayor's press secretary, Kandace Bender, said Monday that there is still a great deal of mutual interest in Terrapin Station and that people from Brown's office and the Dead's representatives are still in discussion about various San Francisco sites, which she said she could not reveal at this time.

Pressed for a timetable on the museum, Bender could offer only a "hopefully sooner, rather than later" answer. "This is a massive project," Bender said. "They need to find the right site."

Cathy Simon, of the San Francisco-based firm Simon, Martin-Vegue, Winkelstein and Moris, is the design principal on the project. She said last fall that the idea behind Terrapin Station was to simulate, from start to finish, the full, multi-sensory experience of the psychedelically inclined jam-band in concert. "[It's] for people who have never been to a Dead show, or for fans who can no longer achieve that experience," Simon said.

The architectural firm's marketing director, Ana Blanco, confirmed Monday Lambert's assertion that the search for a site is ongoing, but Blanco said through a representative that no other information was currently available. Lambert said that among the sites being investigated is one that would be readily adaptable to the museum's plans. "It would be easier if they didn't have to build it from scratch," Lambert said, declining to name the site.

Last summer, former Dead bassist Phil Lesh suggested that the band might possibly re-form to celebrate the opening of the museum on New Year's Eve 1999. The Dead broke up following the death of leader/guitarist Jerry Garcia, who passed away in his sleep Aug. 9, 1995, at a Northern California drug treatment facility, where he had been admitted to battle his heroin addiction.

At the time of Lesh's statement, Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally said it was too early to speculate on whether the band would reunite for the occasion. "Phil [Lesh] said and volunteered that if this all magically happens, he would expect the band to reunite to christen it," McNally said this past summer. "It's a concept that's at least two years away, and to get excited about it is to distort the reality."

In an effort to raise the first several-million dollars to get the project off the ground, the band offered a three-CD collectors' item set, entitled The Terrapin Limited, in 1997. Sales figures for the set, which McNally said could potentially raise between $4 million and $5 million on sales of 100,000 copies, were not available at press time.

Lesh's prediction of a New Year's 1999 museum-opening "may now prove to be optimistic," Lambert said of the bassist's earlier statement. "I still think it will definitely happen, but after years in the Grateful Dead organization, I've learned not to expect anything in any time-frame. Some things happen faster than you would expect, but this is also a band that could easily go six years between studio albums."

In the interim, however, three surviving members of the Dead -- Bob Weir (guitar), Mickey Hart (drums) and Lesh (bass) -- regrouped this year as the Other Ones to headline the hippie-centric, summer-tour Furthur Festival.

The 1998 Furthur tour, on which the trio played a number of Grateful Dead classics, such as "Fire on the Mountain" (RealAudio excerpt), was the most successful in the event's three-year history. Former Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann is the only full-time ex-member not to participate in the Other Ones.

On Monday, McNally said he had no new information on Terrapin, other than his assurance that Dead staffers are "working on it."