A View from Both Sides of the Fence, Part 2

August 26, 2015

Welcome back to our two-part look at how theme park design and operations collaborate, and sometimes collide. Last week, JRA Chief Operating Officer, Dan Schultz, reflected on his hybrid operations/design career and some of the issues he's faced along the way. He also shared two tips on successful operator/designer collaboration - assemble the right team, and craft a joint vision for the project. Today, we'll learn how to execute that vision successfully, and how to evaluate it once visitors are in the park.

Note: The original text for this blog series appeared in InPark Magazine.


So you've assembled and brainstormed, and now it's time to get into the nitty gritty of design. Which brings us to my tip #3:

  • 3. Work in Progress

Operators: When you receive a progress set of drawings provided by the designer for a review, take the time to look at them carefully. The designer wants your input, both good and bad, as soon as possible. Providing good and thorough feedback in a timely manner will help avoid the potential for change orders later in the process.

Designers: Hit your deadlines. Provide your drawings when promised. If the operator is upset due to delays, the willingness to think objectively or ‘outside the box’ is immediately compromised. Your dream client is one that will consider your ideas with an open mind; bad performance on your part will destroy these opportunities.

What happens when designers and operators collide. Or, just a fun photo of me and JRA Co-founder Amy Merrell during our Paramount's Kings Island days.

  • 4. Money Matters

Operators: Give the designer as much project budget information as possible. Reputable designers can work within budget parameters without stifling their creativity. If you elect not to provide budget guidelines, then you can’t be upset when you get designs you cannot afford to build or maintain.

Designers: Design responsibly. If you are given a project budget, then design toward that goal. In today’s economy, convincing an operator to find more money so that they can build your more elaborate, expensive concept is usually impossible. Focus your creativity on providing innovative ideas that fit the project budget. If you can do this successfully, you probably have developed a long-term relationship with the operator.

  • 5. Post Mortem

Operators: Immediately after grand opening, review the project development process and outcome. Did you get the project you desired? Were the goals of the project realized? Was the creative process efficient? Share your thoughts with the designer. This can lay the groundwork for your future relationship, or it can help you better understand your design (and designer) needs on your next project.

Designers: Immediately after grand opening, review the project development process and outcome. Does the final project work, both visually and operationally? Is there anything in the process that you would do differently? Did you maintain a positive working relationship with the operator? Ask the operator for an evaluation of the process and the final product. For designers, a completed project should be more than a paycheck and another line on a resume. It should also provide a valuable learning experience and, hopefully, a favorable reference from the operator for your next potential project.

In the end, what we’re really talking about is communication and respect for one another’s jobs, two things that can make any working relationship successful. In the real world, design and operation must go hand-in-hand. The most successful projects are the ones where everyone recognizes this and carries that philosophy through from the first meeting to the grand opening and beyond.


One of our latest theme park projects - Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.



Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

A View From Both Sides of the Fence - Five Tips for a Successful Designer/Operator Partnership

August 19, 2015

Dan Schultz, JRA Chief Operating Officer

Dan Schultz, JRA Chief Operating Officer

In July, we asked the question, "should I build my museum or attraction?"

Congratulations, the answer is YES!

So now, how do you ensure that, once its open, it will operate efficiently? Over the next two weeks, former theme park operations manager and current JRA COO, Dan Schultz, discusses theme park operations from both hats of his career, from assembling a team, to determining a vision, to financial considerations, and finally, to what happens after Opening Day.

Note: The original text for this blog post was published in InPark Magazine.


I am very proud to be a part of the entertainment and attraction industry. I have had the great privilege to have been a part of the operating side of the business in theme parks for 15 years and I am currently in my 22nd year on the side of the planning, design and implementation of attractions with JRA. I believe that this background gives me a unique perspective on the level of teamwork and spirit of cooperation it takes for an attraction’s operating group to collaborate with a design and production consultant in the creation of a truly compelling and successful guest experience.

Here I am hard at work at Paramount's Kings Island...

For perspective, let’s start with two real stories from my past.

  • As an operator:

The summer crush had just begun at our theme park, and I was already having one of those days. As the manager of entertainment and attractions, I had juggled the staff schedule, helped find a lost child, handled a guest complaint, sat in a long budget meeting and realized that I would have to work a double shift. I had barely caught my breath before another small emergency hit. The lighting in a dark ride had malfunctioned. When we got in to take a look, we found that the lighting problem was directly overhead of the ride’s conveyance system – a track within a water trough. The only way to get at the necessary lighting equipment was to shut down the ride and: A) drain the water and place an A-frame ladder in the trough; B) build a scaffold over the trough or C) put a ladder in the trough without draining the water and hold on tight.

Typical, I thought. Whoever designed this ride never considered the maintenance aspect of keeping this ride looking and operating, as it should.

  • As a consultant representing my design and production company:

I’m sitting in a conference room watching our design team present ideas for a new park attraction. Our designers have presented some wonderfully creative and functional options, but our client’s operations people look doubtful. They’re raising all sorts of red flags, and I feel frustrated. Why can’t these operators think out of the box? Why don’t they trust us?

After 37 years in the theme park/attractions industry, I realize how crucial it is for operations and design to have confidence in one another, and I know how hard that can be.

...and here I am not so hard at work with an ecclectic cast of characters at Paramount's Kings Island. 

Each side has questions. The operator is thinking: Can these people design to my budget? How much theming do we need? How much will this increase our attendance, revenue, per caps, etc.? Will they provide me enough service access and storage? Will they listen to my creative ideas? The designer, meanwhile, wants to know: How far is this client willing to go? What is their budget? How much theming can they afford? What are their expectations for throughput, per caps, etc.? Will they be open to new ideas?

At the end of the day, everybody just wants to feel that his or her needs have been taken into consideration. The operator wants the designer to understand what he goes through on a daily basis. And the designer wants the operator to understand that she is willing to listen – that she does have a conscience.

The good news is that understanding is possible. Based on my experience on both sides of the fence, I offer five tips to develop a happy and productive collaboration.

  • 1. Putting the Team Together

Operators: Here’s a piece of basic strategy for selecting a designer: When selecting your own staff members and colleagues, one of your criteria is probably whether you feel that you actually want to work with them on a day-to-day basis. The same strategy should apply to the designer: regardless of the designer’s reputation, do you feel that you can work with him or her? Do you get a sense of understanding and empathy to your needs? Are members of the design team able to ask the tough, objective questions that enable them to fully understand the scope of work required?

Designers: Okay, the operator really selects you. But you can help make a persuasive impression beyond your design talent. Before meeting the operator and making your pitch, take the time to research the operator’s facility(ies). Understand the history of the attraction. How much theming has been used in the past? What is the theme? What audience is the attraction directed to draw? Showing a basic understanding of the operator’s attraction during your initial marketing presentation and discussion will usually provide a more conducive environment for negotiation.

  • 2. Collaborating on a Vision

Operators: When the designer asks in your initial project kick-off meeting to describe the project, don’t hold back. Too much information should never be enough for a designer. Talk about your operating needs, the budget, the schedule and your vision. This is your opportunity to describe the project as you see it. If the designer does not show a genuine willingness to hear what you have to say, then you probably have the beginning of a communication problem. This does not bode well for the future of the project.

Designers: Listen first, talk second. Most operators have experienced situations and problems that you would never think of, problems like baby stroller traffic jams at the entrance to a facility and guests wet from a water ride dripping on theatre seats. Allow the operator to fully explain his or her needs, objectives and initial thoughts. Let the operator recognize that you want to fully comprehend the design requirements. Then use your design experience to offer mutually advantageous solutions.

So you've assembled your team and have a path for moving forward. But how do you execute and evaluate it? Tune in next week to find out!

One of our earlier theme park projects: Warner Bros. Backlot - Six Flags St. Louis



Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT - A Laughing Matter: National Comedy Center Breaks Ground

August 12, 2015

The new National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York has officially broken ground. The $45 million center celebrates the history of comedy, the craft, and its contributors. To celebrate the start of construction earlier this month, more than 40 events included comedy greats such as Jerry Seinfeld, Melissa Rivers, Regis Philbin, Nick Offerman, Kelly Carlin, the family of Harold Ramis, and many others.

“New York is proud to be home to many legends in entertainment, and building the new National Comedy Center in the hometown of Lucille Ball is a great honor that will bring both visitors and economic growth,” Governor Cuomo said. “This administration and the Regional Economic Development Council is committed to moving Western New York forward, and we're proud to help fund and host this incredible new attraction." ‎

Exterior rendering of the National Comedy Center

The National Comedy Center project includes the renovation of two historic buildings as well as the construction of a new building. It is expected to attract over 114,000 visitors each year and give a $23 million boost to the local economy annually, while also sparking further economic development and helping to improve the economic environment in the region. The National Comedy Center is anticipated to generate 218 jobs and $6.5 million in wages per year in the three counties of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, & Erie.

Project Chairman Tom Benson said, “By virtue of receiving funding from New York State, the National Comedy Center has been formally adopted as part of the State’s long-term, state-wide tourism strategy, and we are looking forward to creating a place of laughter and learning for generations to come.”

Journey Gunderson, Executive Director, said, “It’s great to partner with New York State on this project. Jamestown already brings visitors from 37 states to its annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival and with Governor Cuomo’s support we are moving forward with the creation of a national visitor experience in comedy that is sure to receive worldwide attention.”

In December 2014, Governor Cuomo awarded the National Comedy Center project an Economic Development Grant of $1,500,000. With this award, the project became a key part of the long term economic development and tourism strategy for New York State which will allow it to play a partnership role in regional, statewide and national marketing campaigns such as the revitalized I Love NY Program.

Howard Zemsky, President and CEO of Empire State Development said, “The National Comedy Center deserves a standing ovation for showcasing the region, by placing Jamestown on a worldwide stage, and instilling a sense of pride in all of us who love Lucy.”

“NYS Tourism experts and leaders in the comedy industry and are partnering with the nonprofit National Comedy Center, Inc. to place Jamestown on the worldwide stage, and see the National Comedy Center through to reality. This project deserves a standing ovation for boosting the appeal of the region for visitors and instilling a sense of pride in the residents, who will always love their Lucy.”

Lucie Arnaz said, “Desi and I are thrilled for and very happy that this is actually coming to fruition so spectacularly. We know that Mom would be completely gobsmacked at the scope of what her Jamestown was doing. And I am sure that she would be especially grateful that her life and career could have been an inspiration for this, the first ever National Comedy Center becoming a reality. It represents everything she wanted and exactly what she hoped would happen.”

Construction will begin in the spring of 2016. Fabrication and installation of the attraction components along with the content acquisition process will follow and a target opening in late spring 2017 has been established.

The 501(c)(3) non-profit National Comedy Center is designed by renowned creative firm JRA (Jack Rouse Associates) and interactive specialist Local Projects to honor the craft and its legendary contributors with its interactive exhibit experience, celebrate the best of contemporary comedy with its programming, and cultivate the comedic arts with professional development and support for artists. The National Comedy Center represents the expansion of the National Comedy Center, Inc. and fulfills its mission to enrich the world through the healing power of laughter with its commitment to the celebration of the comedic arts.

The National Comedy Center will include:

  • Reuse and fit out of the wings of the of the historic Jamestown Gateway train station, which recently underwent a $12 million restoration of its center concourse and building envelope.
  • Renovation of a second building to house nearly an acre of exhibition space.
  • New construction of a 6,000 square-foot building that will be the entrance to the attraction and feature 2 full height high definition video screens.
  • When complete, the National Comedy Center will offer approximately 28,000 square feet of attraction space for its patrons to enjoy.

Chairman Tom Benson, Journey Gunderson, Executive Director of the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy, and Jerry Seinfeld (Dan Cappellazzo/AP Images for National Comedy Center)

Senator Charles E. Schumer said, "Jamestown has a very rich comedy tradition. It's only fitting that the birthplace of Lucille Ball becomes a destination for comedy lovers across America. I can't wait to see this new facility and the energy that it will bring to Chautauqua County. If this year's current program is any indication, the rich tradition started by Lucy and Desi will flourish in Jamestown for decades to come.”

Congressman Tom Reed said, “I care about the future of this region and because of that, I continue to fight for this project. I visited the site earlier today and am very excited about the impact this will have on Jamestown and our region. It’s expected to bring roughly 200 jobs to the community both directly and indirectly. It’s only fair that we give the people of our region every opportunity succeed and this is another reminder that Jamestown and the Southern Tier are coming back.”

Senator Catharine Young said, “Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are already beloved figures around the world. The new National Comedy Center will take that legacy to new heights, celebrating the accomplishments of all those who bring joy and laughter to people as an art. Visitors will pump new life into our region’s economy and this attraction will expand recreational venues for our residents. It’s one of the most exciting projects ever tackled in the Southern Tier.”

Assemblyman Andy Goodell said, "Jamestown takes comedy seriously. We appreciate Governor Cuomo's support for this important smart growth project that will contribute to the economic revitalization of the region."

Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan said, “The National Comedy Center is a game changer for Chautauqua County and the Western NY Region. Clearly a National level attraction this wonderful project will bring young and old from far and wide to laugh and enjoy all that our region offers. We are so thankful to our NY State and area Foundation partners who are making this a dream come true. “

Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi said,” I am thrilled that after years of planning and fund raising efforts, this significant new development opportunity for New York’s Pearl City of Jamestown and the entire Western Region has finally reached the point of implementation. Clearly, this unique and major addition to the economy of Southwestern New York is the product of ongoing cooperation and collaboration on numerous fronts, including; the tenacity of the Board of Directors and staff of the National Comedy Center, the generosity of the Gebbie Foundation of Jamestown and Oishei Foundation of Buffalo, the dedicated efforts of the City of Jamestown staff and last but certainly not least, the vision of Governor Cuomo and financial assistance of Empire State Development. As Mayor of this great City, it is my pleasure and honor to thank and congratulate this entire team that has invested the necessary resources, made the sacrifices and undertaken all of the hard work to make this project possible. Now, I’m looking forward to and truly can’t wait for ‘Opening Night’!“

Additional Information

The National Comedy Center is part of a four-pillar Legacy of Laughter vision for the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy, including a comedic arts education program, a comedy film festival and the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.

Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, NY honors the legacy of “The First Couple of Comedy” with the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. The museum attraction is open seven days a week, and features replica sets, Lucille Ball’s Emmy awards, costumes, rare memorabilia, and much more. For additional information on the Lucy Desi Museum & Center for Comedy, visit www.lucy-desi.com.

Tags: Project Spotlight

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Deconstructing Capacity - Capacity by the Numbers

August 05, 2015

You probably don't want your attraction to look like this...

You probably don't want your attraction to look like this...

Greetings! As promised, we’re back to close our series on understanding museum and theme park capacity.

When we were researching our previous two posts, we found in our desks the article Design and Planning Cheat Sheet, written by our friend, Jim Higashi, Executive Vice President ProFun Management Group and Principal of Management Resources. We’ve already tackled the concepts of design days and peak months, but we’re going to take a couple of tips from Jim’s playbook on how to explain size and scale to a client.

When explaining how big something is to a client, consider the following examples:

  • • Boxing Ring = 324-576 square feet (~32-58 square meters)
  • • Basketball Court = 4,700 square feet (~470 square meters)
  • • Hockey Rink = 17,000 square feet (~1,700 square meters)
  • • American Football Field = 57,600 square feet (~5,760 square meters)

Remember, when breaking this down into hectares and acres, 10,000 square meters = 1 hectare = approx. 2.5 acres.

So now you have a sense of how big certain spaces are, but how much circulation space should you allow per person? According to Jim, the following guidelines apply:

  • • Theater seating: 12 square feet per person
  • • Exhibit viewing: 16-25 square feet per person (depending on how close the person needs to be from the exhibitry)
  • • Queue lines: 5-7 square feet per person
  • • Elevators: 2-3 square feet per person depending on ride time
  • • Retail: 24 square feet per person
  • • Restrooms: 36 square feet per fixture

In general, plan on allotting 65% of your total space to circulation.

In addition to people, it is imperative to allot the proper number of parking spaces for your theme park or attraction (no place to park = people turning around and heading home or to a competing attraction). The standard number of automobiles per acre is 110, and the standard number of busses is 25. Your ratio of busses to cars will most likely be determined by your feasibility study: whether your attendance tends to be via groups or those “free-in-transit” (i.e., with their own vehicles).

None of these numbers should be used as definitive figures, but hopefully they serve as a helpful guide in communicating the magnitude of a project to your client.

Many thanks to Jim Higashi for putting these numbers in perspective. We hope you now have a better sense of determining capacity for your project and have enjoyed our month-long look at feasibility.

From "Feasbility July", we shift to "Operations August".  What is operations, and how do your design and operations teams work together? How do you prepare operationally for Opening Day, and how do you keep your attraction looking fresh? These are the topics we'll be tackling over the next two weeks.  Thanks for reading!

Tags: Blog N Learn

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!