JRA (Jack Rouse Associates), one of the most recognized global names in the themed entertainment industry, is celebrating 25 years of planning, designing and realizing theme parks, museums, sports attractions and visitors centers around the world.
While JRA did not formally incorporate until 1987, the firm’s founders had known each other since the 1970s, as original Chief Executive Officer Jack Rouse taught current CEO Keith James (below left), current Chief Operating Officer Dan Schultz, and former Chief Financial Officer Amy Merrell while he was a professor at the University of Cincinnati. After a stint at Taft Broadcasting Company and subsequently Kings Entertainment Group, Rouse founded his own company with Merrell, and Jack Rouse Associates was born.
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Originally focused on tradeshow production, JRA completed its first museum exhibit in 1990, the Public Landing Gallery at the Cincinnati Museum Center, which immerses guests in a recreation of Cincinnati as it appeared in the 1860’s. Four years later, JRA completed its first European theme park project, providing planning and design for LEGOLAND Windsor. Shortly thereafter, JRA began design and planning for its first brand experience – the CNN Studio Tour. Since then, JRA has developed cutting-edge entertainment and cultural experiences around the globe for a wide variety of clients, including work for some of the world’s biggest brands, such as The Coca-Cola Company, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, TABASCO®, Volkswagen and Ferrari, with whom JRA collaborated to create the world’s largest indoor theme park – Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.
CEO/Owner Keith James believes that the key to JRA’s success begins with the firm’s people. “I started working with Jack in the ‘70s, and many of our staff have been with us for over 20 years, ” he said. “Without a doubt, the success of JRA is a direct result of the talent, dedication and loyalty of our staff. We are certainly proud of our portfolio, but we are even prouder of our people.”
Keith believes that the firm’s diversity and focus on the audience are also reasons for the firm’s longevity. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have had the chance to work on some great projects, and each deserves a design solution that matches the client’s unique vision. With that approach in mind, we’ve branched into the planning, design and implementation of projects ranging from children’s museums to science centers, from theme parks to sports halls of fame. While these projects are very different, they all share that desire to connect with the audience on an emotional level.”
Once named by the Wall Street Journal as “one of the world’s more prominent design firms, ” JRA has received dozens of accolades for its work, including four of the Themed Entertainment Association’s coveted THEA Awards for Outstanding Achievement for DAYTONA USA (now Daytona 500 Experience), Volkswagen’s Autostadt, Fort Worth Zoo, and Images of Singapore (co-produced with BRC Imagination Arts). The studio has also won nine IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) Best New Product Awards, most recently for Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in 2011. In 2008, company founder Jack Rouse received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association, and just last year Keith James was awarded IAAPA’s Outstanding Service Award for his decades of service to the industry.
“I think it’s that constant desire to stretch ourselves creatively and tell compelling stories that have been the keys to our success, ” says James. “What is the next big thing, and how can we prepare for it and take full advantage of it? I just became a grandfather, and I now think about what types of museum exhibits and themed attractions my grandson will be interested in 5 or 10 years from now. We can’t know for sure, but I do know that if we constantly adapt and focus on the audience, then the future is bright.”
For more information on JRA’s projects and people, including a blog series re-visiting the company’s first 25 years, visit www.jackrouse.com, Jack Rouse Associates on Facebook and Google+ and @JRAtweets on Twitter.