There’s Only One Opening Day: Handing Over the Keys in Themed Construction

In themed construction, getting to Opening Day is the ultimate goal. But what must be done before you 'hand over the keys' to the operations team?

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There’s Only One Opening Day: Handing Over the Keys in Themed Construction

Opening Day at a themed destination is an exciting endeavor. Fireworks soar, guests arrive, and the entire development team celebrates. Getting to Opening Day, however, requires a methodical and expertly-planned process. Some may think that ‘handing over the keys’ to the operations team is a simple flip of a switch. However, this process is actually a sequence of events and actions that confirm the project work is substantially complete, and the transition from the building team to the operations team is ready to take place.

This work is completed in anticipation of crossing Gate 4, at which we assess and answer a final critical question: Is the project operable?

Preparation for this gate begins with a reflection on the Program Book to ensure that the fundamentals are in place. In short, “Did we do what we said we were going to do?”

The team then creates the punch list to identify all items that are remaining, ensuring that each will be addressed in time for Opening Day.

It is also important to note that during this phase of development, vendor warranties typically begin, so it is critical to keep track of and diligently document each of these guarantees.

“Each of these items is critical in preparing for the official ‘hand-off of the keys.”

Beyond the punch list, an official Pre-Opening Sequence is now established in accordance with the Delivery Plan. During this phase, operational readiness is assessed, acceptance testing dates are established, training sessions are scheduled, and operations maintenance and quality teams are mobilized.

Each of these items is critical in preparing for the official ‘hand-off of the keys.’ After which, contractors are pushed to 2nd and 3rd shifts, while the owner/operator team begins to work during the day to train staff, set up offerings, and solidify the guest experience.

This transitional time is critical to a smooth hand-over. The construction/building team, which has typically been living with the project every day for months or even years, is available to answer questions and provide guidance, while the operations team becomes acquainted with and equipped to maintain and operate the park or attraction at its highest level from the very beginning.

It is also during this development phase that all approvals and specific hand-over dates will be confirmed per the Implementation Manual. Certification dates are solidified with the State, Building Department, etc.; all documentation is handed over; operations readiness teams are in place; and at a specific date and time, site control passes to the operator.

These are critical elements that must be organized and communicated clearly for the entire team to understand and agree. Site security, for example, cannot lapse, and must remain the responsibility of one party until it is clearly the responsibility of the next. There can be no ambiguity or indecision when it comes to these items.

When the hand-over day arrives, the project is now ready to perform as an operational business. Locks are changed, and the keys are handed to the owner. Reliability and readiness teams are in place to ease the ramp-up of operations, and the building team now becomes the secondary contact – available to assist as needed, but always in deference to the now-primary team: ownership/operations.

At this stage a new phase of development emerges – a look at post-opening expansion strategies. Themed developments and attractions are not static projects. These are evolving, vibrant destinations that must remain forward-looking in their vision and offerings. As soon as the keys are handed over, the program management team will update the project’s business plans to reflect operations learnings and will develop scopes and strategies to reflect the development’s future business plans.

New versions of baseline documents, including a Program Book, Delivery Plan, and Implementation Manual, are created to reflect future expansion plans. From there, in many cases, the entire development process begins anew with a focus on future expanded worlds, additional rides or attractions, or new offerings.

In many cases, the owner will retain key members of the development team to remain on-board and drive the expansion. Each new project will require team alignment and a manager to direct all parties through Gates 1, 2, 3, and 4 at the correct times, ultimately keeping the development moving forward while ensuring that the project’s vision is achieved.

This is the true magic in specialty construction and themed development, and the process continues to result in successful Opening Days for projects throughout the world.


  1. Excel Sequence photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  2. Strategy Session photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  3. Expansion Strategy photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
About the Author
John Lindsay
Program Director

John’s 40-year career reflects his passion for developing themed entertainment. His unique experience blends roots in entertainment production with negotiations and management of design and development of entertainment and theming projects globally. As a Program Director at nFusion, John brings his expertise in negotiating and managing mega-projects. Prior to joining nFusion, John helped deliver four Disney Theme Parks (most recently Shanghai Disneyland, as Vice President, Project Management), three world expos, and worked with multiple Hollywood Studios. In 2018 John was given the Master of Project Management award by the Themed Entertainment Association. The award is given to a select group of creators, developers, designers and producers whose body of work has made a significant and sustained contribution to the growth and development of the industry through their innovation, design, craftsmanship and artistry. Full Bio.

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