The theater of

master planning ...

The theater of master planning involves the development of documents that provide a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development.   An inclusive master plan includes analysis, recommendations and proposals for a project's  program, coupled with guest experiences, branding opportunities, intellectual property, retail components, restaurants, and other hospitality and leisure experiences.  It also considers components of community such as transportation, circulation, operations, and code related issues for fire, life safety, and anticipated growth.

It is both a long-range plan, as well as a current reference for the objectives of a project.  People often think of master plans as relevant only to large scale projects, but the practice of master planning can also be adapted to small projects with the same strategic benefits.

The master plan serves as a blueprint for future expansion, design decisions, and an analysis of any project.  It guides the core experience, brand, goals and objectives of the overall project.  It is informed by many factors, including but not limited to, intellectual property, budget, patron queuing and way finding, a variety of codes, and an approach to timeless design.  It will reveal economic opportunities and other key success factors relevant to the overall program with a respect for sustainability and guest connection at the forefront.  It is both resolute and fluid, adaptable yet concrete.

So, what is the difference between a "strategic plan" and a "master plan"?  They are both integral to a successful project.  The master plan is developed from information gathered from the strategic planning process. The master plan organizes the elements from strategic planning into both clearly written copy, and, in our case, is translated into the program of the project and captured in a variety of graphic concepts.

The Planning Process

In conjunction with the brainstorming process, the planning process we utilize is a series of steps:

Step 1. Establish The Goals and Objectives

This involves identifying the goals and objectives of the project. The goals and objectives should be measurable in order to evaluate the success of the plan and help guide the design.  The goals and objectives should clearly communicate what is to be accomplished.

Step 2. Determine The Boundaries

Understanding the conditions, codes and economics helps focus and guide the plan in a general preferred direction.  Without getting too specific, the boundaries help corral the brainstorming results into a more specific tangible solution.  This may include reviewing city ordinances & municipal codes, working closely with planning departments early on, and overlaying some code analysis.


Step 3. Develop the Macro Solutions

Looking at all the information, the plan should now consider the landscape of the project's ideas, economics, limitations, unique opportunities, and a variety of other factors in order to begin assembling the first glimpses of the project.  This will trigger new ideas (maybe more appropriate to say "better" ideas), because every time something is touched it is seen in a different way.  However, new ideas must respect the goals and objectives set forth in Step 1, and align with the overall theme and experience defined during the brainstorming process.  It takes some discipline to allow great ideas, that come at this step, to distract from the initial goals and objectives.

Step 4. Evaluate the Options

The solutions developed in Step 3, in conjunction with the new ideas and opportunities that surface, must be evaluated through the filter of the goals, objectives and overall creative direction developed during the brainstorming process.  This evaluation involves taking a very candid, subjective look and, an attempt to try and see the project for the first time as a future guest.  You must ask yourself:

  • Does it align with the goals and objectives?

  • Does it help reinforce and tell the story?

  • Does it compliment the brand?

  • Does it take advantage of discovered opportunities, and if so is it worth the opportunity cost?

  • Is it a "trend" or is it a "sustainable" and somewhat "timeless" solution?

  • Is it right for this project or attraction, or is it better suited for something else?  (It's OK to bank ideas for other applications)


There are many unique and uncertain factors that will be used to evaluate the options, because every project is unique.

Step 5. Select the General Best Course

After exhausting the various solutions, the best course is selected; yet remains somewhat flexible and fluid.  It is at this point, more focused decisions begin to be made.

Step 6. Begin to Capture the Plan

Remember this is a "master plan", an overall higher level look at the project in light of the goals, objectives, and creative direction identified during the brainstorming process.  By capturing the big picture ideas through story, brand, concepts, etc. the project will begin to develop a character and personality of its own.  It will begin to yield natural derivatives in specific areas; which leads to the final step in the process.

Step 7. Formulate Derivatives

The planning process is not over once the best course is identified and agreed upon.  The plan should continue to identify derivatives and look for ways to refine and improve.  Within the boundaries, and through the lens of the overall plan, derivatives are considered and sometimes discovered in different areas of the plan.  Breaking the plan down into smaller more manageable elements lends itself to seeing the project from a different perspective.  Again, always check new decisions against the goals, objectives and creative direction of the project.  Just because it's a great idea, does not necessarily make it the right idea.

Final Thought...

It is important to note that the steps outlined above are not a stringent formula that applies in great detail to every project.  Sometimes they are very involved, sometimes they are mere guidelines to help organize the process.  The plan exists to assist the design, not take it hostage and force it into a particular direction.  There is no right or wrong way of arriving at the ultimate plan, there are degrees of efficiency and effectiveness through the process.  Each project, each team, each individual contributes to the final solution.  Keeping an open mind and implementing the brainstorming rules is just as viable at this point in the process as well.  Approaching the planning process with a subjective mindset will yield solutions that are both surprisingly unique and exciting for your guests!

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