A Lego set consisting of 50 million little bricks went into the construction of Toronto-based Forrec Ltd.'s $150-million (U.S.) Legoland theme park project in Germany, which opened May 17. For any other company, working with tiny, snap-together toy bricks might pose a highly unusual challenge, but for Forrec, a world leader in theme park design, it's almost par for the course.
Forrec, housed in a former photography supply house in midtown Toronto, has worked in far more exotic places in 20 countries on five continents during the past 30 years. But Legoland Deutschland was the first among its 48 theme park, water park, entertainment centre, resort and casino projects -- including Paramount Canada's Wonderland, the West Edmonton Mall and Casino Niagara -- for which it was fully responsible.
Cale Heit, Forrec's project director, says Forrec did it all -- the concept, themes for different park zones, a master plan, landscape architecture, designing rides and facilities, interiors, working drawings, the co-ordination of consultants in several countries, and Lego employees.
Seven Forrec employees ran the job on the site. Up to 45 architecture, engineering and computer specialist colleagues in Toronto were drawn in during much of the 18 months of construction, which was completed a year ahead of schedule and on budget.
Why Germany? Mr. Heit says Germans spend more per capita on toys than people in most other countries, and are expected to account for 85 per cent of the 1.4 million visitors expected from March to October each year.
The park is Lego System AS of Denmark's latest extension of its toy brand into a theme park in the rolling countryside at Guenzburg, between Munich and Stuttgart. It was preceded by Lego's park in Billund, Denmark, 34 years ago, and more recent ones in Windsor, England, and Carlsbad, Calif., near San Diego.
"Legoland Deutschland is a tight, 12-hectare park, which trimmed about 30 per cent from what it cost to build on the scale of previous Legolands. We put the money into program and facilities, rather than servicing a larger park," Mr. Heit said. The result: more recreation bang for the German mark.
Miniland is the heart of the park, with one-twentieth scale models, up to about four metres high, of prominent European buildings in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Venice and Switzerland, for example. The model of the German Reichstag consists of 1.7 million Lego bricks alone.
Among the 60 attractions are a small Lego factory that churns out freshly made bricks, pedal vehicles on overhead tracks, a train ride that tours the park, a roller coaster that passes through a castle with a dragon blowing hot air, Lego boats and airplanes, a 4.5-metre dinosaur, an 800-seat open air theatre, restaurants and the world's largest Lego shop. And there are miniature and life-size Lego "people" in addition to 700 humans on staff.
"For die-hard Lego fans," Mr. Heit said, "there are computer software programs that allow youngsters to design and build chip-embedded race cars and robots [that]they can manipulate according to instructions in the programs."
Martin Zurauskas, until recently vice-president of development for Legoland Deutschland and now a consultant for Lego from Carlsbad, says the company searched in 1999 for a firm that could handle everything and co-ordinate design and construction effectively. "Forrec was the only place we could find that, worldwide," he said.
Forrec also is busy in Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and China, says Steven Moorhead, the company's founder and former president, now a senior project executive.
Forrec also has been doing charity casino interiors for Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. -- with the latest one opening this month at Gananoque, Ont., near Kingston -- and provincial racetrack slot machine/restaurant/bar facilities. There's also a $40-million project at Gravenhurst, Ont., involving a museum, motel, retail and restaurant space.