We’ve known for many years now that Busch Gardens Williamsburg has big plans for the previous home of Drachen Fire, Festhaus Park. In the mid-2010s, the site was rumored to be home to half of a Rhine-crossing, launched, giga coaster known only by its codename, Project Madrid. Then, before COVID, this plot was allocated to a planned-for-2021, Intamin-made, multi-launch, shuttle, giga coaster we leaked as Project Drachen Spire. After COVID-19 delayed Pantheon’s debut by two full years, a new Pantheon follow-up coaster was designed to replace Drachen Spire in the park’s addition schedule—the Intamin indoor, family, multi-lap, multi-launch coaster expected to be announced next week, Project DarKoaster.
Despite the sudden insertion of DarKoaster into Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s plans, things were still looking pretty positive for Drachen Spire’s post-COVID future. Both the FAA and JCC height waivers for the ride were renewed—suggesting to us that, at the very least, Busch Gardens Williamsburg was keeping its Drachen Spire options open. It wasn’t until about four months ago that we started to suspect something may be changing.
In late April of this year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg conducted a deeply weird height survey in which they flew a couple balloons from multiple locations in and around Festhaus Park. Then, at the end of June, the park conducted numerous soil tests throughout both Festhaus Park and the neighboring Busch Gardens Williamsburg “Boneyard.” It was at this point that it became clear that BGW was plotting something truly enormous—and something that didn’t match up with anything we knew about Drachen Spire.
That brings us to today—when something wild landed in my inbox.
Long-time friend of the site and ParkFans member, Adam, messaged me this afternoon with a tip: Busch Gardens Williamsburg had filed for a new FAA height waiver. Better yet? This new waiver looks nothing like the Drachen Spire. Still better yet? It provides us our first timeline evidence for when we should expect to see this new mystery project. Oh, and yes, it gives us a highest point location and altitude too.
See why this is a massive deal yet? I assume so. Lets dive in.
Below you’ll find a copy of the Federal Aviation Commission height waiver in question: 2022-AEA-13648-OE.
As you can see, this height waiver was filed a couple weeks ago on August 9th. The Construction Info and Structure Summary reveal that the waiver is for a permanent amusement park structure which is slated for construction between February 2023 and March 2024. Down in the Height and Elevation section, we can see the proposed structure’s height of 220 feet above grade. There’s also a “Structure Name” provided, “Busch Gardens Bürgermeisters,” which could be the project’s internal codename or could be an attempt to conflate this filing with the recently-debuted Bürgermeister’s Hideaway.
Under Structure Details, another crucial data point can be found: the latitude and longitude of the structure’s highest point. A map displaying the exact location from the height waiver can be found below.
All of this information, taken together, paints quite a vivid picture. Assuming this waiver is approved and this new mystery project continues to move forward, we can expect a 220 foot tall “amusement structure” to be completed by April 2024 with its highest point located next to Drachen Fire’s old maintenance bay.
Given the distance of this highest point from any current (or even previously-planned-for-Drachen Spire) guest pathways, we hypothesize that this is likely a new coaster—seemingly planned to debut in 2024 instead of the previously-anticipated Drachen Spire.
Speaking of Drachen Spire, does the existence of a new Project 2024 mean Spire is dead? Not necessarily—both renewed Drachen Spire height waivers are still technically, currently active. That said, the fact that yet another coaster is being prioritized ahead of it is probably cause for grave concern if you were a fan of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s planned shuttle giga.
Project 2024’s highest point doesn’t directly conflict with the known layout for Drachen Spire, but it is close—just on the other side of Drachen Fire’s maintenance bay from Drachen Spire’s once-planned main launch track. What could really spell doom for Spire though is if Project 2024 ends up utilizing Drachen Fire’s old station building. If that were to happen, Spire as we knew it, would be dead for sure.
There may be reason to suspect that Project 2024 could utilize Drachen Fire’s station too. The highest point in the newly-discovered FAA waiver puts Project 2024’s peak almost exactly where the top of Drachen Fire’s lift hill was located previously. Drachen Fire exited its station with a 180 degree, left-hand turn before entering its 150 foot tall lift. It’s very easy to imagine a potential Project 2024 that follows this same path—just with a taller, steeper lift.
To give you an idea of the distances we’re talking about here, below I’ve included a map measuring the distance from the start of Drachen Fire’s lift to the newly-proposed highest point for Project 2024.
As you can see, the blue line running parallel to Drachen Fire’s station and maintenance buildings is about 260 feet long. To put that in perspective, that’s more than enough room for Iron Gwazi’s 206 foot tall lift (about 240 feet long) or Steel Curtain’s 220 foot tall lift (about 220 feet long). If Busch Gardens Williamsburg wanted to utilize Drachen Fire’s station building and follow the same path out of the station as Drachen Fire, a 220 foot tall lift hill topping out at the location of the newly-proposed highest point works brilliantly.
Now yes, all of this is just theorycrafting at this point, but don’t let that distract you from the news at the root of it. Right now, according to public filings, a 220 foot tall structure—almost certainly a coaster—appears to be slated to debut at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2024. That would make three notable coasters in three years. An investment schedule that aggressive is nearly unheard of in this industry—and that’s even before we take a second to acknowledge that Project 2024 is looking as though it could be Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s largest coaster ever.
As we’ve reported many times now, rumors have agreed for years that SeaWorld Parks has huge plans for Virginia leading into Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 50th anniversary in 2025. A theoretical 220 foot tall Festhaus Park coaster seems to fit that bill quite nicely, no?
With height surveys and soil tests in hand and a FAA waiver filed, what’s next for Project 2024? Right now, we don’t know whether or not this project will have to go back through the James City County height waiver process. Infamously, Busch Gardens Williamsburg was able to utilize their James City County Project Madrid height waiver for Pantheon despite dramatic changes to the project during development. The same could be true with Drachen Spire’s height waiver and Project 2024.
If there’s not another JCC height waiver in the pipeline, the next we hear from Project 2024 could, conceivably be when we start getting actual site plans filed with the county. With construction slated to start on Project 2024 as early as February 1st, 2023, it’s possible that such filings could be just around the corner…
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