The visitor attraction design firm JRA, founded by Jack Rouse in 1987, might not be a household name in its own city, but millions of people have enjoyed its work around the world. Keith James, who bought JRA in 2008, secured the firm’s future late last year when he agreed to be acquired by Ryan (William) Stana’s RWS Entertainment Group.
“It was really kismet,” says Stana, who came to UC’s College-Conservatory of Music in 1998 as a dance major. That’s where he met James’ wife, Patti, who was one of his professors. “RWS had its eyes set on a master planning and design firm. I called Keith and said, I want to let you know this is happening. The synergy was perfect.”
James was preparing to celebrate his 70th birthday and was pondering a succession plan. Stana needed a design component to turn RWS into a one-stop shop from conception to execution for clients such as theme parks, cruise ships, museums, corporate branding, and standalone events.
Stana grew up near Pittsburgh with an abundance of energy and ambition. As a high school student he took dance classes at Point Park University and worked for a corporate entertainment firm. When he enrolled at CCM, he enjoyed talking with Keith at parties the couple hosted for Patti’s students. “I remember him telling stories about his job, and I knew that was the kind of job I wanted,” Stana says. “His passion always inspired me to be unique in this industry. When I started RWS almost 20 years ago, JRA was known as the gold standard in the leisure and attractions industry.”
Stana splits his time between the company’s headquarters in London and New York, with five days per month scheduled in Cincinnati. “The JRA name isn’t going anywhere,” Stana says. “We’re keeping the headquarters in Cincinnati because of the relationship with UC that’s a pipeline for designers. We were two companies with two global leaders, and now we’re one company that gives our clients endless possibilities.”
James remains JRA president and doesn’t sound like a man easing off the gas after celebrating that milestone birthday. “JRA is launching into one of the most prolific years in its history,” he said at the acquisition announcement in November. “More than a dozen JRA-designed attractions will open in 2022 with more in development through 2025.”
Stana is almost giddy when he talks about visiting Cincinnati regularly, whether it’s connecting with old friends or making new ones at JRA’s downtown office. “I am very hands-on and very goal-oriented,” he says. “I like to have what I call time-in-action about how we’re going to accomplish everything in the year. I think the only way to do that is to be present with the staff and show them my energy. We’re investing in Cincinnati because we know Cincinnati can deliver. JRA was the missing piece for RWS. We’re going through unprecedented growth in the experience industry, and that will benefit Cincinnati through job creation and reputation.”