Back in May of last year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg filed paperwork with James City County requesting permission to build an absolutely enormous special event and storage facility on the former site of the park’s Festhaus Park-adjacent greenhouses. This addition, as we understand it, was designed to allow the entertainment department to vacate Curse of DarKastle and Festhaus Park ahead of DarKoaster and Drachen Spire construction in the years ahead.
Since we last wrote about this project on the BGWFans frontpage, a shocking amount of time has passed and physical work still has yet to begin. In fact, so much time had elapsed since notable movement on this project that, late last year, I speculated on ParkFans that the project could have been cancelled all together.
Fortunately, earlier this month, we finally saw some serious signs of life from this proposed addition. After months of stagnation, the park finally filed a new “Busch Gardens Entertainment Event Building” site plan with James City County—a filing that is still working its way through the review process now. A photograph of the new site plan can be found below.
Unfortunately, this new site plan depicts a very different structure than was proposed last year. Back when the park initially filed documents for the dedicated special event space behind Festhaus Park, the planned GSF (gross square footage) of the building was listed at 32,500 square feet—a bit larger than DarKastle’s show building area. According to the new site plans we’ve reviewed (current as of late January), the revised GSF of the proposed dedicated special event facility is a mere 13,064 square feet. Needless to say, this is a truly monumental reduction in the scope of this project—a 60% decrease in GSF to be precise. A copy of the site plan for the original iteration of this project is included below.
In fact, lets compare this new structure to the original (cancelled) dedicated special event space that was designed for the area behind the Royal Palace Theater back in 2018. Plans for that project called for a 15,500 square foot facility—this new version is 16% smaller than even that proposal.
The bad news may not even end with the enormous downsizing of the scale of this building. Though we can’t be completely certain in this assessment based on the plans we’ve seen, there are signs that point to another possible cut that may have been made to this addition: It looks to us as though Busch Gardens Williamsburg may have budget cut the building’s walls. No joke.
The late January site plans we’ve seen don’t show any exterior doors on the structure whatsoever. In fact, the small paved areas and sidewalks that were present at each of the entry/exit points in the original design are all gone as well. The only paved portion that remains at this point is a single pathway up to the structure’s foundation from the railroad crossing.
Like I said, maybe we’re missing something or maybe the park is even plotting to add walls at a later point. As of now though, all we see evidence of is a roof over a foundation, some gravel areas around the structure’s perimeter, and a paved pathway leading back to the railroad crossing to Festhaus Park.
I could go on for hours questioning why SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment—easily one of the highest-priced and most successful regional park operators in the country—seems to be dead set on cutting nearly every corner they can possibly find right now. I could highlight the fact that Kings Dominion has constructed multiple dedicated special event facilities for their Halloween and Christmas events. I could reiterate that, for a now year-round Busch Gardens Williamsburg, enclosed, climate-controlled, space—allocated specifically for their incredibly successful and absurdly profitable special events—is more valuable now than it ever has been previously. I could point to the negative guest experience impacts of BGW being forced to constantly reallocate space that should be used for year-round attractions to Howl-O-Scream houses and Christmas Town walkthroughs that just end up sitting dormant for the vast majority of the year (see: DarKastle & Battle for Eire).
That said, I think the root cause of all of this is plainly obvious to anyone who has been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg in the last handful of years. Everyone can see the radical penny pinching through its effects on the guest experience—whether it be through staffing levels, park cleanliness, customer service, ride operations, food quality, landscaping, etc. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, so I’ll drop it for now. Hopefully my frustration is coming through loud and clear though.
Ultimately, I am glad to see that Entertainment should (knock on wood) finally be receiving some dedicated, purpose-built, event and storage space. I just worry that this absurdly compromised solution is just going to, in effect, be a significant downgrade from what the department has right now: Curse of DarKastle. At less than half of DarKastle’s size and seemingly without the walls or climate control DarKastle features, it’s not clear to me how this new structure will serve entertainment’s needs at all.
Howl-O-Scream houses may, operationally at least, work well enough, but can you really put the photos with Santa walkthrough inside what is basically a massive picnic shelter during December in Virginia? Is Busch Gardens Williamsburg planning to find another corner elsewhere in the park to shove that incredibly lucrative seasonal attraction into? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. With DarKoaster preparation already well underway, Nevermore, Demented Dimensions, and Santa are all already homeless. Presumably this facility will be completed in time for Howl-O-Scream, but it’s hard to imagine what some of those attractions look like in a venue like this.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see this fall…
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I love where in the blueprints it says transfemor station pads for future attraction.