The Grand Hall Experience Brings a Thea Award Home to St. Louis

March 25, 2015

All photos courtesy Christopher Chien for TEA unless noted.

All photos courtesy Christopher Chien for TEA unless noted.

Last weekend, industry leaders from around the globe donned their black tie finery for the Themed Entertainment Association's Thea Awards Gala, hosted at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California.  The Awards, considered the "Oscars" of the themed entertainment industry, celebrate the year's greatest achievements in the creation of blockbuster museums, theme parks, science centers and attractions. This year's 21st annual Gala, which enjoyed a record attendance of over 500, recognized 15 projects, featuring everything from wizards to rats to little grey tractors.

Among those projects lauded at the ceremony was The Grand Hall Experience at St. Louis Union Station. In 2012, Lodging Hospitality Management purchased the 120-year-old Union Station with the goal of driving attendance to the station’s Grand Hall and adjacent bar/hotel. Their challenge for the $66.3 million renovation was to accomplish this transformation without compromising the building's architectural integrity. One component of their overall solution was The Grand Hall Experience – a $1.8 million, ultra high-definition projection mapping show. Offered several times nightly and free to the public, the show is the first of its kind in the United States. According the the Thea Awards Committee, the Grand Hall Experience "...has rejuvenated a National Historic Landmark with an engaging dynamic space that allows the audience to see the architecture in a whole new way."


The day before the Awards were presented, the TEA hosted its annual two-day Summit, at which each award recipient had the opportunity to present a case study on the challenges, opportunities and keys to success of their projects. JRA VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy, offered a brief history of Union Station - from its opening in 1894, to its newsmaking moment as the backdrop for the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" photograph, to its hard times as the demand for rail travel waned. He then recounted the unique challenges of creating the attraction, specifically the fact that, due to the building's historic status, projectors and lights could not be mounted in any way that would mar the physical building.

Technomedia's Drew Atienza then explained the "how" behind its designs for and execution of the Grand Hall Experience. Projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-foot tall, barrel-vaulted ceilings and across the entire space, the 3-D presentation is made up of a multitude of vignettes, taking guests on a fantastic journey from the depths of the sea to the Sistine Chapel to St. Louis’s Busch Stadium. The 16-projector holographic light show employs 14 high-resolution projectors, digital media servers, consolidated control, 10-channel surround audio, and an LED lighting system to elevate the space and immerse the audience in the media event. Celebrity narration further enhances the experience, with St. Louis notables John Goodman, Bob Costas and John Hamm lending their voices to the show.

The following night at the Awards Gala, Bob O'Loughlin, LHM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, thanked his team and consultants. Since its opening on May 10, 2014, the Grand Hall Experience has generated both valuable PR as well as an increase of over 125% in attendance to the Grand Hall.  Most importantly, the attraction has helped a new generation of visitors appreciate the grandeur and historic significance of St. Louis Union Station.

Here are some photos from the weekend's festivities:

Shawn McCoy offers a brief history of Union Station, from its glory days to its not-so-glorious hard times pre-renovation.

Shawn and Technomedia's Drew Atienza present the final product for the Grand Hall Experience at Union Station.

Each project had the opportunity to produce a "making of" video for the Thea Awards Gala. Here, Shawn recounts the genesis of the idea for transforming Union Station's Grand Hall via projection mapping.

Bob O'Loughlin accepts the award for The Grand Hall Experience.

George Bauer, Bob O'Loughlin and Steve O'Loughlin (LHM President and COO) pose with their award and a photo of their project. In-house photo.

JRA would like to congratulate all of the recipients of the 2015 Thea Awards!

We're taking a little siesta next week, but come back in two weeks when we begin our month-long "Spring Into Museums" series on April 6!

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Discovering the "How Behind the Wow" at the IAAPA Leadership Conference

March 19, 2015

Dan Schultz, Clara Rice and Linda Round visit SkiDubai as part of the IAAPA Leadership Conference 2015.

Dan Schultz, Clara Rice and Linda Round visit SkiDubai as part of the IAAPA Leadership Conference 2015.

Last week, nearly 200 industry professionals from over 30 countries gathered in Dubai for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA Leadership Conference).  Attendees learned about the "How Behind the Wow" in one of the world's most dynamic cities, learning from keynote speeches and breakout sessions, touring new and developing entertainment attractions and networking against goregous architectural backdrops.  The overriding themes?

1. Build sustainably.

2. Provide the highest level of customer service, produced by the highest level of staff training.

3. Create experiences that will inspire lifelong memories.

4. "Impossible" is not an acceptable word.

JRA's Blogger-in-Chief, Clara Rice, covered the Conference for, so get all the scoop here, and check out our photo album on Facebook.

Next week, we'll recap the 2015 TEA Summit and Thea Awards, featuring award recipient, the Grand Hall Experience at St. Louis Union Station.

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Imagination and Inspiration: The 2015 TEA Summit

March 06, 2015

What do dancing marionettes, time machines, wizards and little grey tractors have in common? They will all be celebrated at the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) annual Summit and Thea Awards Gala weekend March 19-21 at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. TEA is a thousand-member business non-profit representing the creators, developers and designers of compelling experiences worldwide. (Fun fact: JRA President Keith James is a past President of TEA.) The TEA Summit & Thea Awards Gala comprise TEA’s marquee event of the year: two days of panel discussions, case studies and networking followed by the Saturday night Thea Awards Gala (produced by Phil Hettema and The Hettema Group) honoring the 2015 Thea Awards recipients with bright lights, blockbuster production values and black-tie opulence.

Summit Day One – Trolling Trends, Exchanging Insights

The weekend begins with TEA Summit Day One, a day-long program that addresses business issues and trends in the visitor attractions industry. Featured sessions include “The Big Picture from AECOM – Global Economic Trends in the Attractions Industry”, “Global Trends, Local Impacts”, “The User Perspective – Trends and Insights Into Guest Research”, and “The Value of Original Stories in Today’s Brand Focused and IP-Driven World.” The program aims to share the industry intelligence and knowledge that can then be used to help create such projects as those lauded on Day Two. Day One closes with Walt Disney Imagineers presenting a case study of “it’s a small world,” which was named for this year’s Thea Classic Award.

Christine Kerr

Co-chairing Day One are Christine Kerr, TEA Immediate Past President and VP of BaAM Productions, and Ann Hathaway, a member of the TEA International Board of Directors. Both of them embraced the challenge of putting together this dynamic slate of presentations: “Summit Day One seemed like the perfect project [for Ann and I] to collaborate on,” said Kerr. “We both agreed that the strength of the Thea Case Studies [that make up Day Two of the Summit] had shifted the dynamic, so we shared a goal of making Day One more inclusive and more aligned with the content of Day Two to broaden the potential audience.”

Ann Hathaway

Adds Hathaway, “The Summit has always been my favorite event of the TEA year. I really enjoy the acknowledgment and analysis of the business side of show business.”

Kerr emphasized the potential of Day One to connect the creators of themed entertainment projects with those who fund and develop them: “Our goal is to present the kind of information that should be considered as part of the project development process.”

Hathaway hopes “attendees walk away enlightened with an even greater appreciation for the elements (both business and creative) that help to make this industry so successful and fascinating.”

Kerr wants attendees “to leave the Summit prepared and inspired to start their next project,” and she would like the Summit Day One curriculum to continue to evolve: “I’d like it to be a conference when owner/operators and experience creators can come together for a dialogue on shared issues and challenges with a goal of creating the best possible visitor attractions and guest experiences.”

Thea Case Studies Day (Summit Day Two) – Learning from the Best of the Best

While Summit Day One offers a broad-brush view of industry trends, Day Two brings a deep dive into the 2015 Thea Awards recipients via a case study format. This year’s recipients include:

Roberta Perry

With this many fabulous projects to cover, Thea Case Studies Day plans to be a morning and afternoon full of information and inspiration. Curating it all are TEA Past President Roberta Perry of ETI, and Pat MacKay of Ones&ZerosMedia. Roberta and Pat are no strangers to Summit Weekend – the duo have been in charge of Day One and Day Two for the past two years. They gave up Day One this year due to professional demands, but kept Day Two because of their love for the information and format. Perry and MacKay have been working together on various themed entertainment seminars, workshops and networking events since the early 1990s, so they have a keen sense of each other’s strengths and styles.

When planning Case Studies Day, Perry and MacKay carefully consider the number of projects being presented and their overall vision for what they would like the day to achieve. “The primary purpose of Day Two is to give each of the award recipients a chance to present the ‘inside story’ of their project and allow all the attendees to network,” said MacKay. “So that means there are a number of structural givens: how many presentations, how many breaks, when do we start the day, when do we finish, how long is lunch, when does TEA leadership present, and when we break so that there’s time for everyone to breathe before the Western Division Party.”

As soon as the Thea Award recipients are announced at the annual IAAPA Expo in November, Perry and MacKay sit down and start doing the production math (durations for the welcome address, keynote, sponsor thank you’s, etc.). Then they decide on the order of presentation to keep the day lively and fun. As the information comes in as to who is presenting each project, TEA PR specialist Judy Rubin begins working to build buzz for the Summit and Gala. “None of this would be possible without Judy, TEA Events Producer Tammie Richards, and the best team of volunteers in the world, including Gary Fitch from Electrosonic, Joe Fox from Birket Engineering and the enthusiastic team of NextGen crew members – not to mention our terrific new COO, Jennie Nevin,” praises Perry.

Pat MacKay

In addition to being a Case Studies Day Co-Chair, MacKay will have the honor of receiving the 2015 TEA Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes a TEA member’s outstanding contributions to the Association “above and beyond the call of duty.” MacKay was deeply honored when she found out about the Award:

  • For most of my professional life I have had the extreme good fortune to work in this intensely creative industry. When I transitioned from publishing about to producing in the themed entertainment industry, the TEA welcomed my eclectic background. My years on the Thea Awards Committee and work with the TEA Summit are both fun and rewarding. It’s quite wonderful to get an award for “doing what you do for love”!

In her role as co-chair, MacKay hopes that TEA Summit Day Two: Thea Case Studies Day leaves attendees with “inspiration and insight”: “I always find that Day Two is filled with fabulous ways the presenters ‘got around problems and made their dream a reality.’ Most of the project processes are like mini-action movies. We’ve got a problem and a challenge – how are we going to solve it with the time and money at our disposal? There’s so much to learn from each team’s strategic and creative processes.”

“Thea Case Studies Day will be a fast-moving, highly energetic day filled with incredible nuggets of truth and adventure,” adds Perry. “Then, we party!”


To learn more about Saturday night’s big party, tune in tomorrow as JRA’s Clara Rice interviews TEA Founder Monty Lunde about the Thea Awards Gala – its glitz, its glamour and its importance to the industry.

Follow JRA’s blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook feeds for complete coverage of the TEA Summit and Thea Awards, including Shawn McCoy’s Summit Case Studies Day presentation on reviving historic icons.

For more information on the TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala, or to purchase tickets, please visit the TEA website.

Tags: JRA Journeys

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Comedy, Discovery and Revelry: A 2015 Preview of JRA's Museum and Attraction Projects

January 07, 2015

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville is one of several new projects

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville is one of several new projects "on tap" for 2015.

Welcome back to JRA + Blog!

We hope you enjoyed a fun and restful holiday season and rang out the year in style. While we’ll continue to reflect on the attraction designs, trends and milestones of 2014, today we’re offering you a sneak peek at what lies ahead for the new year.

One Flock of Birds Flies East, Another Flock Lands in Russia


As we mentioned in our 2014 Year in Review, the Year of the Horse could have been more aptly described as the “Year of the Bird” - the Angry Bird, that is. “Angry Birds Universe: The Art and Science Behind a Global Phenomenon”, began its journey in Dubai, UAE last year before flying off to Doha, Qatar. This year, the traveling exhibition, a collaboration between Imagine Exhibitions, Rovio and JRA, will be heading to China. Stay tuned for more details on its exact flight path!

Meanwhile, in Russia, the Birds will make a more permanent nest this summer. JRA is working with Rovio and FORTGROUP to develop the new Angry Birds Activity Park St. Petersburg within the highly anticipated Europolis Mall. The attraction will be a first of-its-kind family destination that blends the exciting world of Angry Birds with the rich history and culture of St. Petersburg. Through a combination of scenic environments, theatrical lighting, dynamic sound, media and special effects, guests will become immersed within the mysterious Piggy Island – home to the Angry Birds and their nemeses the bad Piggies.

And the Thea Award Goes To…

This spring will be a season of celebration, as the Grand Hall at St. Louis Union Station receives the Themed Entertainment Association’s Thea Award for Best Live Show – Limited Budget. Considered the Oscars® of the themed entertainment industry, the award will be presented in grand style at the TEA’s Thea Awards Gala at the Disneyland Hotel on March 21. As always, JRA + blog will be front and center, covering all of the weekend’s festivities. 

Worlds of Discovery

Starting this summer, children will be treated to a world of discovery at Beijing’s first permanent children’s museum. Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum of the CNCC will offer 26,000 square feet of interactive and innovative experiences. The museum’s five exhibit halls and fourteen galleries, themed to the Chinese zodiac, will enable children ages infancy to seven the opportunity to learn problem solving, embrace exploration and challenges, and understand the diversity of their world.

A Project with a Punchline

It will definitely be a laughing matter this summer, when the highly anticipated National Comedy Center breaks ground. The Center, located in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, New York, aims to be a “national attraction based on the art of comedy, the craft and its contributors.” The project received a major boost when the New York State Regional Development Council granted the Center $1.5 million in Empire State Development funds. JRA has provided design consultation for the Center in partnership with interactive media firm, Local Projects.

On the Rocks (in a Good Way)

In 2012, JRA provided design and implementation for the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Bardstown, Kentucky. In 2015, JRA’s Bourbon Trail heads north to Louisville and the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse. The new Stillhouse will offer bourbon enthusiasts the opportunity to tour a small working distillery and bottling line, sample a sample, and purchase Jim Beam merchandise. JRA Is again providing design and implementation for this brand attraction.

Where You Can Find Us

It wouldn’t be the JRA + blog if we didn’t include our annual Conference World Tour! This year, you can find us at the IAAPA Leadership Conference (March 10-12), the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Summit and Thea Awards (March 19-21), the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and Museum Expo (April 26-29), the Association of Children’s Museums Interactivity! Conference (May 13-15), the IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo (June 16-19), the IAAPA European Attractions Expo (October 6-8), the TEA’s SATE Conference (Fall 2015), the International Association of Children’s Museums’ Hands On! Conference (October 13-16), Alliance of Science-Technology Centers Conference (October 17-20), MAPIC (November 18-20), and the IAAPA Attractions Expo (November 16-20). But you never know quite where we’ll turn up, so don’t be surprised if you see us at other events, conferences and mixers throughout the year. We look forward to seeing you!

We’re excited to share our tips, tricks and inspirations for engaging and innovative attraction planning, design, and implementation, introduce you to some of our fabulous people and projects, and answer your themed entertainment questions. We’ll begin next week with Shawn McCoy’s annual trends review, and how the lessons learned from recent innovative projects can help lead museums on the path to success.

Best wishes for a successful and fun 2015!


Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Babies, Birds, Bikes and The Fonz: JRA's 2014 Year in Review

December 21, 2014

Welcome to the 2014 Year in Review.  The "Year of the Horse" was very good for JRA - bringing new projects, new people and lots of adventures.  We couldn't have had enjoyed our successes without our fabulous team, partners, and clients (and blog readers!), so thank you for your support.  Here's a look at some of the year's highlights:

March 2014

Keith James presents “Defining Your Story” (from a wheelchair, no less!) at the IAAPA Leadership Conference in San Francisco California. The presentation offers techniques for creating compelling museum and attraction experiences through storytelling.

Designer Teresa Johns serves as graphic designer and box office manager for a theatrical production of Working, directed by fellow JRA designer, Colin Cronin. Teresa would go on to provide graphic, photography and ticketing support for seven other shows this season.

Senior Project Director Randy Smith participates as a "red" in a High Art "Diner en Couler en Plein Air", a performance art piece on the roof of the Aronoff Performing Arts Center.  The "piece" was performed to be visible from the observation deck of Cincinnati's art deco Carew Tower.

April 2014

The Mind Museum receives the Themed Entertainment Association’s Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement – Museum. This is the first time an Asian science center has been selected.

Keith James is quoted in Delta’s SkyMiles Magazine’s “Member Review” section. He should know about air travel – Keith has logged a lifetime total of over 6.4 million Delta miles!

May 2014

JRA attends the 2014 Association of Children’s Museums’ Interactivity Conference and is a proud sponsor of the conference’s Small Museum Financial Aid Program. JRA launched the program in 2009 to provide five selected individuals with complimentary registration to Interactivity and tickets to all three evening events.

June 2014

The JRA-designed KidsSTOP™ opens at Science Centre Singapore. KidsSTOP is the first children’s science center in Singapore. While designed for children aged 18 months to 8 years, VP of Marketing Shawn McCoy couldn’t help but get it on the fun.

Chloe James Hausfeld pens her first “Conference World Tour Journal” for the 2014 Asian Attractions Expo, offering readers a glimpse of not only the conference but also of Beijing and the Philippines. Hausfeld also shares her Amsterdam stories from September’s European Attractions Expo.

Shawn McCoy presents on the panel “Intellectual Property: 5 Tips for Success” at the Asian Attractions Expo.

Photo courtesy Blooloop.

Sochi Park opens in the Russian seaside town of the same name. JRA provided overall master planning, concept design and schematic design for the 20.3-hectare park.


The Grand Hall at St. Louis' Union Station unveils a new 3D light, video and sound show for its 65-foot ceiling. The experience, dubbed the largest multimedia show in North America, includes a musical soundtrack and narration to slides and videos portraying St. Louis history and culture. JRA provided storyline development and scripting for the experience, which was produced by Technomedia.

July 2014

“Angry Birds Universe: The Art and Science Behind a Global Phenomenon” debuts at Dubai World Trade Centre in the UAE. The STEAM-based, 10,000-square-foot traveling exhibit, a partnership between JRA, Imagine Exhibitions and Rovio, remains in Dubai through the summer before venturing to Doha, Qatar.

August 2014

The newly renovated and expanded South Carolina State Museum opens. JRA provided planning, conceptual design and environmental graphics for the State Museum’s telescope gallery, retail store and common areas.

Project Management Assistant and Russian native Ekaterina Batt is sworn in as a United States citizen. Kate moved to the US as an exchange student in 2005.


September 2014

JRA hosts the Themed Entertainment Association’s first-ever Cincinnati event – OkTEAberfest! Attendees enjoyed panel discussions, a tour of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a visit to the Cincinnati Comic Expo (where this blogger got a hug from The Fonz!) and the nation’s largest Oktoberfest celebration.

Randy Smith continues the red theme for 2014 and joins the Cincy Red Bike Program. He currently ranks #22 in the entire city for number of miles ridden.

October 2014

JRA welcomes its littlest team member – Keith’s grandson (and Chloe’s nephew), August ("Auggie") John McDonald. 8 pounds 5 ounces of non-stop adorable…

Clara Rice completes the Queen Bee Half Marathon, her fourth. She surprises even herself when she can walk through the office under her own power the next day.

The JRA-designed Crayola Experience makes Parents Magazine’s list of “10 Trips to Take Before Your Child Turns 10”.

Just in time for Halloween, designer Colin Cronin performs in an evening of original sketch comedy called “Scary Fun” with his troupe, The Company Productions.

Speaking of Halloween…

November 2014

The IAAPA Expo is a big week for JRA!

  • • Shawn McCoy presents on the Museum Day “Emerging Trends in Museum Design” panel, and Clara Rice presents on the “TEA Presents Future Legends: Transforming Experience” panel.
  • • Chloe James Hausfeld wins a bronze medal at the IAAPA Footprints from the Heart 5K run (her third medal in three years!).
  • • The Grand Hall Experience at St. Louis Union Station receives the IAAPA Brass Ring Award and is named a 2015 Thea Award recipient.
  • • Members of the JRA team participated in a Guinness World Record event at the GM and Owners Breakfast: most people launching handheld model gliders simultaneously.
  • • To document the spirit of the 2014 IAAPA Expo, JRA produces and shares its first ever “IAAPA…in 2 Minutes or Less” video to great social media acclaim.

JRA attends its first-ever MAPIC conference. This retail conference was held in Cannes, France, and Senior Project Director Rob Morgan and Assistant Operations Manager Dana Everhart were on the scene.

December 2014

Dan Schultz is heavily quoted in Rinksider Magazine: “The Voice of the Roller Skating Industry”. He advises rinks on how they can take queues from themed attractions to create immersive environments for their skaters.

JRA hires Rachel Daheim as a full-time member of the design team. Rachel, a recent SCAD graduate, co-oped with JRA this past summer.

JRA participates in the St. John/Mercy Health Circle of Giving program. The program distributes gifts to over 200 families, helping more than a thousand adults and children each year, and JRA has participated for over ten years.

So that's 2014! What will 2015 bring? Find out in our first post of the year on January 7th. In the meantime, from all of us to all of you, best wishes, for a healthy, happy holiday.

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!