Shedding light on the story of Sally Dark Rides in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you’ve ever been to an amusement park like Six Flags or Kings Dominion, chances are you’ve been on a Sally Dark Rides ride.

Many of the attractions they make are made right here in Jacksonville.

The company has a history in the River City.

What began in 1977 as a company making mannequins in department stores and dentist’s offices quickly shifted to a theme park focus following the growing popularity of Chuck E Cheese in the 1980s.

CEO John Wood remembers this time well.

“We have shifted from a production company to an entertainment company. That has led us to a 45-year career in the theme park industry building attractions around the world,” said Wood.

Named after a friend of one of the founders, Sally Dark Rides has more than 60 attractions in 23 countries.

So why Jacksonville? Wood said the answer is simple: This is his home – where he and the founders were born and raised.

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“While there were opportunities and considerations, ‘Should we move to Orlando to serve the Disney and Universal groups?’ The decision was no. We love Jacksonville and we love being a part of Jacksonville,” he said.

People who work at the company said that creative ideas are constantly brewing among employees.

“In the design department we just develop new rides and come up with cool ideas for shows. Other illustrators, other artists here. We’re just big kids who never grow up,” said creative director Rich Hill.

Lauren Weaver oversees marketing at Sally Dark Rides. She said the time frame to bring characters to life depends on the project.

“From design to installation one, one and a half years. Until then, negotiations could still take a few years. About a year to do these dark ride attractions,” Weaver said.

The company even makes interactive games to keep parents and kids busy.

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Wood said one of the keys to success is staying anchored in the River City.

“Jacksonville was more of a stable base. We’ve been able to rely on our banks and our local institutions and see the same people when we’re in church or when you go out in public,” he said. “It’s our home. Why should we go anywhere else?”

Sally Dark Rides also has a few attractions to see in Jacksonville.

They have a James Weldon Johnson exhibit at the Ritz Museum and a marine mammal exhibit that has been on display at MOSH for several years.

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