Project Management Institute

A galactic letdown

The promise of leaving Earth for a day wasn’t enough to save the Space Center Bremen


The promise of leaving Earth for a day wasn't enough to save the Space Center Bremen.

IT WAS A SAD DAY for the attendees who visited the Space Center at Space Park Plaza in Bremen, Germany, on 26 September 2004, its last day of operation. Europe's largest indoor theme park closed after only 217 days.

Many people were surprised when this new, technology-driven theme park closed after such a short time, mainly because they hadn't even known it existed, says Oliver F. Lehmann, PMP, vice president of professional development for PMI's Troubled Projects Specific Interest Group. He believes that the project management team may have forgotten to promote the park sufficiently or accurately, and in trying to satisfy the desires of a large, diverse group of stakeholders, it ended up meeting the needs of none.



The concept for Space Center Bremen was unprecedented: a 22,000 square meter (13.7 square mile) playground filled with high-tech, space-themed attractions and an attached 44,000 square meter (27.3 square mile) shopping mall called Starwalk. The two biggest investors—the city of Bremen, which has little more than 500,000 inhabitants, and Dresdener Bank—contributed most of the park's approximate €600 million ($760 million) development costs. The project (originally without the shopping mall) had been under review since 1994. In that time, it went through different investors and two design phases that resulted in numerous concept changes. Daimler Chrysler Aerospace AG (DASA, which is now part of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.) showed interest but withdrew later.

Space Center Bremen's launch included a “soft” opening in December 2003, in which all of the rides were not yet operational and visitors paid a reduced fee, and a grand opening in February 2004. However, despite having 1,500 visitors in the first three hours of the soft opening, Mr. Lehmann says many visitors were disappointed. Some complained of the €22 ($28) entrance fee they felt did not match the size of the theme park and the number of attractions. Visitors such as science fiction fans, who were more interested in information on astronomy and space travel, did not find enough technical or scientific information.

Space Center Bremen was developed with the idea that 1.5 million visitors would attend it annually. However, if the ten months the facility was open were at all representative, only a third of that number could be expected. The shopping mall was an even greater flop: It had been built to house 120 shops but not a single business rented space. Shouldering the burden of the empty space added to the theme park's financial disaster. When Space Center Bremen closed, more than 300 people were left jobless.

Mr. Lehmann says the project failed because managing stakeholder expectations is difficult if stakeholders have very different expectations that come into conflict. He believes stakeholders' motivation was too splintered for the Space Center Bremen concept to hold, saying some were concerned with the reputation and prestige the undertaking could bring, while others sought a quick return on investment. Early concerns about whether Bremen, with its comparitively small population, was the right location for the park also were prescient. Given the inactivity and criticism from shop owners and park patrons respectively, Mr. Lehmann feels their needs were not gauged or understood adequately.

A clear strategy concentrated on a limited number of stakeholders with less heterogeneity might have made Space Center Bremen more successful, Mr. Lehmann says. At the very least, it would have been easier to perform a stakeholder analysis and determine whether the project could have been successful at all, he says.

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