Meet the Team: Our Staff's Dream Projects

January 20, 2011

For today's blog, and because it's a snowy, dreary day, we thought we'd ask our staff what their dream design project would be. Here are some of the serious (and not-so-serious) responses we received:

  • "Definitely a Lord of the Rings permanent installation or theme park. Not only is the written material so incredibly rich, but the filmmaking was exquisite and ahead of its time."
  • "My second floor bathroom. It really needs work." Nice.
  • "A retrospective of the Impressionists." That project would definitely generate a lot of Monet.
  • "A giant mood ring." Earthy.
  • "I love the sports stuff that we do. I would love to work on a project for a world-renowned soccer (football) team!" GOOOOAAAALLLL!
  • "A Pixar museum, a Starbuck's Vistors Center, the next Harry Potter attraction, a Lord of the Rings theme park or a Red Sox Hall of Fame." Or combine them all! Just imagine how much faster Harry could fly on the broom after a couple of lattes! Turn the Quidditch pitch into Fenway!
  • "Create an original photographic essay of sunsets from beach bars around the world. I would have to do all the research and photography." We'll call it The Margaritaville Museum.

Our last submission was particularly poetic and deep:

  • "A story,
  • writ visually
  • with a broad brush,
  • a chameleon character,
  • toes tapping in limelight
  • through color-washed silk sets,
  • with a large fee"

We look forward to providing you with more fun insights into the JRA team's mind.  Enjoy!

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Why Cincinnati? Part Two

January 14, 2011

Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum

Why We Stay
The University of Cincinnati continues to serve as one of the main reasons Jack Rouse Associates has remained in Cincinnati for 23 years. I.D. (International Design) Magazine ranked the University’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) as one of the world’s top ten design schools, and Businessweek consistently names DAAP one of the best in the nation. Each semester, one industrial design and one graphic design student co-ops with Jack Rouse Associates, and these students often become full-time employees of or independent contractors to JRA upon graduation. Approximately half of our current design team consists of DAAP graduates.

(L) Cincinnati History Museum (R) Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science

In addition to providing JRA with much of its talent, with its many attractions, Cincinnati has also provided JRA with a stream of work, including:

(L) National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (R) Mapping Our Tears - Hebrew Union College

Creativity loves company, and you won’t find many more creative and artistic cities in the United States than Cincinnati. The city boasts a two-time Tony Award winning theater, an art museum ranked by Zagat with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chicago’s Art Institute as one of the best art museums in the country, and the nation’s second oldest opera. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, and the Cincinnati Pops was the only American orchestra invited to perform at the Opening Weekend of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

With 9 Fortune 500 companies (more per capita than New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles), Cincinnati provides a bevy of design work for its many firms. From consumer product development to graphics to architecture to interior design and media, Downtown in particular has become an enclave of activity, even establishing one of its streets as Designers Row. This breadth of partners enables Jack Rouse Associates to pull together dynamic teams for its portfolio of projects.

Given the fact that we are one of Esquire’s “Top Ten Cities That Rock”, one of Money Magazine’s “Top 20 Fun Cities,” and one of the Most Innovative Cities in the country according to the Visa Index (and the list of accolades goes on), the answer to the “why” question becomes even more apparent.

“Personally and professionally, Cincinnati is a great fit for us,” says Shawn McCoy, JRA’s VP of Marketing and Business Development. “From a business standpoint, we have the country's top design school in our back yard, which provides a steady stream of design talent for our studios. Given the large number of design firms in the city, the area also has a vibrant and talented pool of specialty consultants and freelance designers with whom we regularly collaborate. On a personal side, the city is a great and affordable place to raise a family, and offers all of the cultural and social amenities of larger cities - all while holding on to its small town charm.”

The Future

Over the last 10 years, Cincinnati has seen the construction of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Great American Ballpark, Paul Brown Stadium, the Contemporary Arts Center, and the School for Creative and Performing Arts – the only K-12 arts-focused public school in the country. It has also seen the revitalization of Fountain Square, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Cincinnati Wing and parts of its historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The next 5 years hold even more promise, with the opening of The Banks (a $1B mixed-use riverfront development), a 45-acre Riverfront Park, a Downtown Casino, a streetcar system and the renovations of Washington Park and Cincinnati’s 19th-century Music Hall, home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pops and Opera. In July 2012, Cincinnati will serve as host to the World Choir Games, considered the “Olympics of Choral Music”. Coming to the United States for the first time in its history, the World Choir Games will bring hundreds of thousands of participants from over 70 countries, resulting in a multi-million-dollar impact for the city.

“The energy and potential currently alive in Cincinnati is something I have not seen in many years,” says James. “We look forward to seeing where it will go, and we will continue to be a partner in the growth of the city we call home.”

…And this Song of the Vine,

This greeting of mine,

The winds and the birds shall deliver,

To the Queen of the West,

In her garlands dressed,

On the banks of the Beautiful River.

- Catawba Wine, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Tags: Outside the Studio

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Why Cincinnati? Part One

January 13, 2011

More than a few times (a month), a vendor, colleague or client asks us: “why are you in Cincinnati?” While no, we are not near Disney or Universal, New York or Hollywood, Cincinnati and Jack Rouse Associates are intertwined, and living in the Queen City has afforded us many opportunities, both professional and personal.



When colleagues from outside of Cincinnati ask us where we’re from, our answer evokes what is known as “The Glaze.” The Glaze involves a sideways tilt of the head, a blank stare and a moment of complete silence. After telling them it’s “near Chicago,” The Glaze reverts to a smile and a nod of recognition. In fact, Cincinnati is nearly 300 miles (482 km) from the Windy City – not exactly a hop, skip and jump. However, its location in the central region of the country positions it with in 500 miles of 60% of the US population, and having 6 airports within 150 miles makes it pretty easy to get where we need to go.



Cincinnati, originally named Losantiville (a name of 4 languages together meaning “city at the mouth of the Licking River”), was founded in 1788. The name “Cincinnati” comes from the Society of Cincinnati, a group that honored the return of Revolutionary War soldiers to civilian life in the late 1800s and that was itself named for the Roman general Cincinnatus. Cincinnati has had its share of nicknames over the years, including Porkopolis (when Cincinnati was the #1 hog packing center) and “the Queen of the West” – a moniker coined by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Cincinnati is also the home of many firsts, including t he Cincinnati Reds (1869 - first professional baseball team), the first municipally-owned major railroad (1880), the world’s first re-enforced concrete skyscraper (1902), the first licensed public television station (WCET in 1954) and the first municipal university (University of Cincinnati in 1870).


University of Cincinnati

How We Got Here

That university brings us to the beginning of the JRA story, for it was there that the founders of the company met for the first time. Jack Rouse was a professor at UC’s College Conservatory of Music, and Keith James, now CEO, was his student. From there they would go to work at Taft Broadcasting, laying the groundwork for Kings Island. After working for other Taft parks, as well as the Vancouver Worlds Fair and Universal Studios, James returned to Cincinnati in 1992 to join Jack Rouse and former COO Amy Merrell, who had founded Jack Rouse Associates five years earlier. Current CEO Dan Schultz, another former (and self-proclaimed “best”) student of Dr. Rouse at the University, joined the JRA team in 1993, and the rest is history. “Cincinnati and Kings Island is where I got my start in the themed entertainment business,” says Schultz. “And while this business has allowed me and my family to live in several great cities in the US, my work and fate always somehow brought us back here. For me, I consider myself lucky to be able to work on all of these great, international projects while living in Cincinnati.”

So that’s how we came to Cincinnati, but why do we stay? Visit JRA + blog tomorrow to find out.

Tags: Outside the Studio

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Project Spotlight - Throwback Edition: Legoland Windsor

January 11, 2011

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LEGOLAND® Windsor - Windsor, UK

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For our first Project Spotlight – Throwback Edition, we celebrate a unique children’s theme park on the eve of its 15th anniversary.   LEGOLAND® Windsor, located in Berkshire, England and as such the first Legoland Park outside of Denmark, opened its doors in 1996.  Geared toward the 3-12 age group, the park, now owned by Merlin Entertainment, boasts 50 rides and attractions on its 50 square acres and uses 25 million LEGO bricks.  With a 2009 attendance of 1.84 million visitors, LEGOLAND Windsor is the third most visited theme park in the United Kingdom and the 12th most visited in Europe. 

LEGOLAND Windsor’s slogan, Heroes Wanted, speaks to its emphasis on “active participation, stimulating imagination and learning through play,” and Legoland has been a hero in its own right.  It was voted UK’s Number One Family Attraction by Leisure Group Magazine in 1999, Best UK Attraction for Children by Yandell Publishing in 2002, and Best Family Visitor Attraction in the 2007 Tommy’s Parent Friendly Awards.

LEGOLAND Windsor has five main activity areas, interspersed with “peaceful clusters.” Each area relates to a different LEGO play theme, with interactive rides, shows, playscapes, building workshops, driving schools and a “Miniland” — a series of model towns and scenes from European cities, re-created in astonishing detail.

Working closely with the LEGO Group and several other firms,  JRA provided master planning, attraction design, graphic design and scripting for several live shows.  We asked Senior Project Director, Randy Smith, to provide some insights on working on this unique project:

“We started our work with a week long workshop at LEGO’s headquarters in sleepy Bilund, Denmark. We were given tours of just about every corner of the place, factories, offices, local restaurants, and the best of all, the LEGO model shop! My favorite part of the model shop, aside from all the great models in progress, was the 100 foot long, 4 foot high display of every available LEGO component in every color; really a LEGO fan’s dream come true.

After the workshop, the project team immediately transferred to the site in Windsor. The site was a former safari park and the new headquarters was located in the ‘Mansion House’. This had to be the nicest site office any project has ever had. Whereas most site offices are in temporary trailers, St. Leonard’s Mansion was the former home of a Duchess, an American car magnate and a U.S. President. It had oak paneled rooms, ornate plaster ceiling moldings, and terraces overlooking Windsor Castle and Windsor Great Park. Oh, and once a day, at approximately 11AM, British Airlines’ SST took off from nearby Heathrow making so much noise that all discussions had to stop for a few minutes.

When we arrived on site there were still elephants and lions on the property. This made for some interesting rules, like we couldn’t get out of our vehicles in various sections of the property. It was also the first project where a “Burial Plan” was part of the record drawings.  This plan located the numerous locations where many large animals met their final resting place.

LEGO was meticulous when it came to children’s learning requirements and providing appropriate play environments relative to each of the LEGO brands, but they were also warm and humble colleagues that really enjoyed their work.  Like many of our staff, I’ve always been very interested in how children learn through play, and the LEGOLAND project was a fantastic opportunity to put play and learning ideas into practice.

Because LEGO really challenged the norms of theme parks with the decision to cater to very young guests, I think we all learned a lot and came up with some great attractions that, in the end, were simple and extremely affordable.”

On Thursday, we’ll answer a question that we have been asked since our founding in 1987 – WHY CINCINNATI?!?


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Variations on a Theme: Deciphering the Difference Between Amusement and Theme Parks

January 06, 2011

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Universal Studios - Orlando, Florida

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When clients come to us with an attraction idea, one of our first questions is whether they want to build an amusement park or a theme park.  While these two kinds of parks have many similarities, their differences have a profound impact on the overall project budget and goals.

First, the similarities.  Both amusement and theme parks are larger than city parks, playgrounds or Family Entertainment Centers.  Both are fixed (i.e., not traveling carnivals or fairs), both are most often outside (Ferrari World being the most recent exception), and both usually incorporate a mixture of rides, shows and other attractions. 

This, however, is where the similarities end.  While amusement park rides can be lightly themed, they are generally purchased off-the-shelf (and sometimes even used).  A theme park consists of a single theme or an amalgamation of several themes.  The theming not only exists just on the rides and attractions, but permeates through each of the park’s environments, including landscaping, front- and back-of-house buildings and signage.  While amusement parks have been around since the late 19th Century, theme parks are a comparatively new concept.  The first park designed to encompass a single or combination of themes was Santa Claus Land (now known as Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari), which did not open in Santa Claus, Indiana until 1946.

JRA has provided design work on a number of both amusement and theme parks.  Below is a photo of the former Bubba Gump Shrimp Shack at Kings Island.  As you can see, even if you are not building a park based on specific themes, it is possible (and more visually appealing for the guest) to theme specific rides, attractions, restaurants or retail.

In addition to Ferrari World, JRA has provided theming for such parks as Universal Studios Florida and Legoland.  Design for these parks provides the additional challenge of integrating a single component into the overall theme of a larger park.

In determining the type of park you want to build, the first question is – what is my budget?  The additional expense for a theme park in sizable, not just in terms of the additional design and fabrication involved, but also in acquiring the intellectual property of an established brand.  Theme parks generally also take more time to build, so you’ll want to take that into consideration.  On the other hand, do you want your park to tell a complete story?  Do you want your guests to feel totally immersed in your park as if they are in a different world?  Then, allowing for the budget and time considerations above, a theme park is definitely for you.

Whatever your decision, Jack Rouse Associates is here to help, and we look forward to creating a dynamic and engaging park experience for your visitors.  For a complete list of our amusement and theme park projects, be sure to check out our website. 

Tuesday, JRA + blog will take a trip in the “way back machine” and check in on one of our past projects.

Tags: Blog N Learn , Project Spotlight

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