Amusement Parks: Busch Corp.’s Themed Entertainment Legacy in St. Louis

28 February 2009

I had the pleasure of meeting Jumana Brodersen (right) a few days ago, on her 50th birthday. Elaine Swanger (bottom right), her longtime colleague at Busch Entertainment Corp. (BEC), arranged for us all to lunch at a wonderful restaurant called Crepes Etc., in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri. The CWE is a pedestrian-friendly district filled with sidewalk cafes, and everyone there seems to be a dog owner. It borders splendid Forest Park, site of the 1904 world’s fair.

By Judith Rubin

Leaving her native Lebanon as a teen to join family in the US, Brodersen received her degree in architecture from the University of Texas in Arlington. Career and marriage led her eventually to St. Louis and to BEC, where she worked for 10 years, rising to corporate director of creative development. Projects she oversaw included the award winning Curse of Darkastle attraction, the Manta coaster set to open this spring at SeaWorld Orlando, and Jungala at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, a naturalistic environment that brings people into close proximity with live jungle animals.

“One of Jumana's big contributions was to delve into the emotional experience that the guest would have, and to direct projects based on providing a strong emotional takeaway and a clear memory of complete immersion,” says Swanger, who worked with Brodersen to develop the storyline that “the flying coaster would help you feel like a ray.” Swanger continues, “Jumana provided strong creative leadership, and she is so good with the practical parts of moving a project forward and providing management with backup data on demographics and how a project fits into the park. She also prepared detailed reviews of competitors’ attractions so that management could understand how new BEC projects fit into the big picture.”

For Jungala, “the basic idea was that we wanted to connect animals and humans with parallel and similar play,” says Swanger, who helped develop and illustrate concepts for several aspects. One of her images resulted in the orangutan hammock suspended directly under the glass floor of the human viewing area. Another resulted in the opportunity for an orangutan in a hollow log to meet a child in a matching hollow log, with only glass between them.

The Themed Entertainment Association recently named Jungala for a Thea Award. On March 7, in recognition of the role she played in its creation, Brodersen will accept the award on behalf of Busch even though she is no longer a Busch employee. She and Swanger are among dozens of former BEC creatives who elected to remain in St. Louis when the company relocated to Orlando in July 2008. (Two weeks later, another era came to an end when InBev purchased the entire Busch company, including the entertainment division and parks which are generally expected to be sold off in the near future.)

Out of 58 employees, fewer than one-third followed BEC to Orlando, according to Brodersen. Many of those who stayed are now busy forming new entertainment companies. Brodersen’s is The J CO, LLC, and she’s currently working on a project for the St. Louis Zoo, applying her years of experience creating animal attractions for Busch. Swanger, former design manager at BEC, is now principal at Elaine Swanger Designs. Other BEC alumni include Alan Stein, former corporate director of entertainment and now president of sky's the limit international, as well as David and Linda Smith (former corporate VP, entertainment and VP, brand management, respectively) now heading up Smithink. BEC hired Smithink to direct the master planning and the creative vision for the Worlds of Discovery park in Dubai – a project now on hold.

To coastal denizens, St. Louis being smack in the middle of the country puts it in the “flyover” zone, but those who live here appreciate the unique treasures, the diversity and the creative spirit of this grand old American city.  And this bubbling, Midwestern talent pool should be of especial interest to those forming project teams in the current economy. They have the ability to be very competitive – not just in terms of ability, but financially as well. Because frankly – another great thing about St. Louis - it just doesn’t cost that much for a person to live well, to be creative, and to do business here.

More from Judith Rubin:
Good prognosis for US pavilion at Shanghai 2010
Worship Spaces : Under the Dome of the Historic Salt Lake Tabernacle
The Dark Side of Themed Entertainment : a chat with Nick Farmer
Teaching Themed Entertainment : Interview with Don Marinelli

See also:
Themed Entertainment Association Hosts Annual Industry Summit and Thea Awards Gala March 6-7 in Anaheim
Themed Entertainment Association Announces 15th Annual Thea Awards Recipients
Jungala: COST Produces Zoo Exhibits for New Busch Gardens Expansion
Manta, Ride The Flying Ray

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