Just over a week ago, we reported on the renewal of the notorious 355 foot Festhaus Park height waiver that was originally requested for the controversial, Intamin-made, multi-launch, giga, shuttle coaster we’ve dubbed Drachen Spire. In last week’s article, we were very careful to leave the door open for a currently anticipated opening in either 2024 or 2025 and for the possibility that the coaster could have been redesigned in the time since we originally leaked it back in January 2020. Thanks to a few new pieces of information that have surfaced in the time since, we thought it reasonable to circle back today update you all on what we’ve learned.
First off, thanks to some newly-discovered public records (thanks Adam!), we now know the requested extension length for the 355 foot height waiver. If approved, Busch Gardens Williamsburg would be permitted to begin construction on an attraction 355 feet above grade as late as mid-2025—potentially signaling that an actual attraction opening could come as late as 2026.
That sounds like a long way off—and it is—but we have good reason to think that the park won’t wait anywhere near that long. The original 355 foot height waiver filed back in the Spring of 2019 had this same 36 month construction start window despite the fact that, as we have reported for years, Drachen Spire was slated to open in 2021. In fact, a letter submitted by the project manager to James City County regarding this height waiver extension expressly confirms that reporting. Direct quote: “The originally planned start to construction was anticipated in the Summer of 2020.”
That put the original height-waiver-to-construction lead time for Drachen Spire at about 15 months. If we assume the same lead time here, we could reasonably expect construction by mid-2023—conveniently just a couple months after the anticipated opening of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s next roller coaster, Project DarKoaster. I admit that this is a rather simplistic and potentially somewhat optimistic mode of analysis, but there is some additional cause for that bullish outlook.
For many, many months now the rumors we’ve heard have all pointed to the Festhaus Park coaster project opening by the park’s 50th anniversary in 2025. In the last couple months though, the whispers from people close to the project have all started echoing a single year: 2024. I’m not saying this can’t change—it certainly can—we’ve already seen the project slip from 2021 to 2024 due to the impacts of COVID-19 and the prioritization of a replacement for Curse of DarKastle. That said, if I were putting down money right now, I would definitely be betting on 2024 based on what I have seen and heard.
You don’t have to take my word for it either. Earlier this week, ParkFans member and historically reliable Busch Gardens Williamsburg insider, BGWnut, stated the same: “I feel very confident in telling you the park has something else planned for the 50th. I would expect [Drachen Spire] to open in 2024.”
As stated in the intro, until this point, we have tried to leave the door open for the possibility that, over the course of the three year delay that the Festhaus Park coaster has endured, Busch Gardens Williamsburg could have taken the project back to the drawing board. At this point though, any major redesign is looking mighty unlikely to me. In the letter from the project manager to the county that we cited earlier, Busch Gardens Williamsburg makes it clear: “There are no revisions to the previously approved heights and graphics.”
While I suppose this could possibly allow for minor tweaks of the layout before the coaster’s highest point (that soon-to-be-iconic spiral spike), any relocation or even widening of the structure’s highest point would almost certainly require some “revisions” to the previously-approved proposal documents. The fact that the massive spiral spike seems to be remaining intact almost certainly rules out any dreams of a full-circuit redesign.
In fact, I have even more bad news for anyone who was still holding out hope for some sort of traditional, non-launched, giga coaster. In the middle of our panicked attempt to keep up with the recent pace of Busch Gardens Williamsburg news, we missed something pretty major. Thankfully, ParkFans forum member, figment1986, caught my oversight.
Remember the new, seemingly wall-less, event building plans that were filed late last month? Tucked down in the bottom left corner of those site plans was a tidbit of future attraction news. See for yourself in the highlighted image below.
It doesn’t get much clearer than “transformer pads to be installed as part of future attraction,” does it? It really was a perfect example of news hiding in plain sight.
Though additional confirmation that an attraction is in development is always nice, perhaps the most important thing here is the size of the proposed transformer pads. By my eye, these proposed foundations appear quite large—suggesting that they may be designed to house transformers with some serious electrical capacity. What could have such hefty power load demands? Maybe a record-breaking, launched, giga, shuttle coaster…?
Overall, we’re in a bit of a weird place with this project right now. We knew an incredible amount about Project Drachen Spire before COVID—all the way down to its proposed color scheme.
That said, despite all current signs and rumors pointing squarely towards the return of Drachen Spire as originally leaked for a 2024 debut—I still feel the need to hedge my bets a little. This unwillingness to simply report “BGW is planning Drachen Spire for 2024” isn’t a result of doubting anything I’ve seen or heard—it’s rooted in the fact that there are still theoretical alternate explanations I can imagine that would lead to the evidence I’ve seen and the rumors that I’ve heard.
BGWFans’ reputation for “always getting it right,” only exists because we try to account for every possible explanation in our reporting. Until Busch Gardens Williamsburg files a new Festhaus Park coaster site plan showing exactly Drachen Spire, we have a responsibility to continue to leave the door slightly ajar to any reasonable alternative explanation. That said, by always hedging, I worry that we sometimes project more uncertainty than we actually feel.
Oftentimes, that’s a situation I’m completely comfortable with. My confidence has been misplaced before and it will be again at some point. However, given how long Drachen Spire has been in a holding pattern, at this point, I feel like it may be useful to actually express how I’m currently assessing the situation.
Given what I have seen and heard over the last year or so, I’m somewhere around 90% sure that Drachen Spire, essentially as originally leaked, is coming. Furthermore, I’m about 85% sure that this massive Festhaus Park-bound coaster is currently planned for a 2024 debut.
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