I know this article isn’t short and the title sounds like a snooze-fest. Give it a shot though. I assure you, there’s something for everyone in here. Howl-O-Scream? Project Madrid? Pantheon & Drachen Spire? This piece has it all.
Part I: Background
Busch Gardens Williamsburg has morphed a lot over the years, but there are a few constants that seem to never change. One such example is that any underutilized area of the park is always fair game to be used as storage or special event space. Ground-floor of a shoot-the-shoots darkride? Storage and event space! Decaying husk of a once-lauded Oceaneering darkride? Sounds like storage and event space to me! Vacated maintenance and station buildings for an infamous Arrow looper? Storage and event space, respectively! Forested area in the middle of nowhere? This bad boy can fit an entire Howl-O-Scream house! The indoor portion of a roller coaster where theming should be? It’s free real-estate!
Basically, the point here is that Busch Gardens Williamsburg has faced a storage and special event facilities crisis for many, many years now. In fact, this space shortage has often been cited as one of the justifications for DarKastle’s untimely demise—the shell of the building represented a ton of value to Busch Gardens Williamsburg during Howl-O-Scream and Christmas Town—possibly even more than it represented as Curse of DarKastle during the main season.
DarKastle’s death isn’t the only reason we’re going to tell this story starting back in early 2018 though. Just a couple months after the announcement that DarKastle would never operate again—a public acknowledgement that, for the time-being, the newly-renamed “NewKastle” would be storage and event space—Busch Gardens Williamsburg filed plans for a new dedicated event facility.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see why Entertainment may have wanted more space than even the enormous “NewKastle” building could provide. Unknown to us at the time, a Rhine-crossing, launched, giga coaster—internally codenamed “Project Madrid”—was already deep into development. This project, as we understand it today, likely would have forced Entertainment to vacate Festhaus Park by no later than mid-2018 to facilitate the rumored 2019 debut of the original, Rhine-crossing giga coaster.
Again, with the benefit of hindsight, we can estimate that this was likely the result of the shifting timelines around the Entertainment department’s departure from Festhaus Park ahead of coaster construction. Initially, entertainment would have needed to be out by early 2018. Under the new, post-Madrid, pre-COVID plan though, coaster construction would not require entertainment to leave Festhaus Park until early 2020—ahead of “Drachen Spire’s” originally-planned 2021 debut.
That’s brings us to today—separated from 2019’s best laid plans by a global pandemic that changed everything again. We’re nearly halfway through 2021 and Pantheon, like most of its contemporaries in SEAS’s 2020 coaster class, is essentially standing but not operating. Meanwhile, the plans for “Drachen Spire” are being held in stasis in a back office somewhere. Despite all of that though, this week Busch Gardens Williamsburg kickstarted a new project—one that looks hauntingly familiar…
Part II: The News
This week Busch Gardens Williamsburg filed a new special use permit with James City County seeking authorization to build an enormous, new, 32,500 square foot building near Festhaus Park. The site, currently occupied by a satellite Landscaping Department facility, is located just outside the railroad loop, directly south of Verbolten’s show building. An interactive map of the area in question can be found below; feel free to navigate around to get your bearings.
After initially filing a permit, Busch Gardens Williamsburg followed up with a supplemental document, identifying the project as a “Proposed Event & Storage Building” and providing a first look at the anticipated site. Huge thanks to ParkFans members Thomas and Greg (Jahrules) for contributing the legwork required acquire this document so quickly!
In addition to the rough, black and white site plan above, Busch Gardens Williamsburg provided the helpful, basic, colorized, mockup of the final project, which is included below.
As you can see from the plans above, the proposed facility is pretty straightforward. The park is planning an absolutely enormous rectangular building surrounded on two sides by a gravel yard and some new planting on all four to help it blend into the landscape. There’s also a pathway that connects the building to the railroad crossing adjacent to the old Drachen Fire station.
So, just how big is this building? To give you some idea, it’s larger than both Das Festhaus’ dining area and Verbolten’s show building. It’s actually quite close in size to Curse of DarKastle’s ride building—a facility that currently easily holds two Howl-O-Scream houses and a Christmas walkthrough/meet-and-greet attraction with plenty of room leftover for storage, a small gift shop, a photo sales area, and more.
Lets take it from a different angle. Drachen Fire’s station, one of the most frequently used Howl-O-Scream house locations since the event’s inception, is eight to ten times smaller than this newly-proposed structure.
To put it simply, this new, proposed special event building is huge. Ignoring logistical concerns like queue space and the like, Busch Gardens Williamsburg could nearly run all of Howl-O-Scream out of this one building. It’s that big.
Part III: Why?
Why may sound like a silly question to ask after spending a large chunk of the first section of this article explaining why Entertainment desperately needs event facilities and describing how dramatic the storage space crunch is throughout the park as a whole. So why are we asking “why?” Simple: If we work off of the assumption that the original event and storage facility proposed for the area behind the Royal Palace Theater was intended to make up for the impending loss of Entertainment’s ability to utilize Festhaus Park, why is a new building being proposed now and why is it so much larger?
Lets tackle timing first. Back in 2018, the original event and storage building was proposed during the development process for Project Madrid. It was a canary in the coal mine of sorts—it was an early indicator that Design & Engineering was about to do something that would rob Entertainment of the space they needed to house their projects.
Could this new proposal be history repeating itself? Could the reemergence of plans for a dedicated event and storage facility be an early hint that Entertainment is, once again, on track to lose access to Festhaus Park? It’s certainly too early to say for sure, but there is a very real possibility that there’s still a giant, dragon-themed, giga coaster lurking on the horizon for Festhaus Park.
The timing is interesting, for sure, but the size is too. The newly-proposed event building is more than double the size of the the one that was planned back in 2018. As we established earlier, when the original event facility was proposed in 2018, it was designed with two crucial data points in mind:
Entertainment had been given full control over NewKastle
Entertainment was about to lose control of Festhaus Park
If we assume those two data points remain true, why the dramatic difference in size? Wouldn’t it have just been considerably cheaper and easier to resurrect the plans from ’18? What variable are we missing? Why the enormous size increase?
It could just be that the 2018 plans wouldn’t have fixed all of Entertainment’s space issues or that this new iteration may just be more future-proofed. Both of those explanations make sense and one of them is probably the most likely explanation. That said, before I close, I’ll still leave you with the less likely scenario:
What if this new building is so much larger because Entertainment knows that they’re about to lose access to even more space than they were on the verge of being deprived of back in 2018…? What if SeaWorld’s five-year plan for Busch Gardens Williamsburg includes reclaiming, say, Curse of DarKastle, from Entertainment too…?
Just some food for thought…
BGWFans’ Madrid Arc continues, guys! One day most of what we write about won’t fall under the shadow of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s long-delayed Festhaus Park giga coaster plans, but that day certainly isn’t today.
To keep up with this new event building, Pantheon, “Drachen Spire,” and anything else BGW throws at us in the months ahead, follow BGWFans on Twitter and Instagram. We’d appreciate it if you’d give us a like on Facebook, as well. Engaging with our content on social media really does help!
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