Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg — two of Virginia’s biggest tourist attractions and economic boosters — won’t be reopening when Virginia moves next week into the third phase of the state’s plan to gradually reopen businesses amid the coronavirus.
The theme parks say limiting them to having 1,000 people at one time is not economically sustainable.
Under Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan, entertainment venues, including amusement parks, can open at 50% capacity, or a maximum of 1,000 people.
“It is not financially feasible for Kings Dominion to restrict attendance at 1,000,” spokeswoman Maggie Sellers said in a statement.
“Kings Dominion is disappointed to hear as part of the Phase 3 announcement that the restrictions applied to smaller indoor attractions and venues are being improperly applied to large amusement parks, such as Kings Dominion,” she said. “Although we respect the decisions of our state officials, the restriction of limiting our park to just 1,000 guests does not reflect the large volume of space available to accommodate recommended social distancing protocols, and essentially suggests the state will only allow us to have five people per operating acre.”
Kings Dominion, she said, would not reopen under Phase 3 unless the restrictions are lifted or altered.
“We are hopeful that our plan for re-opening will receive serious consideration and that a separate decision will be made in short order for amusement parks in Virginia,” she said.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water County USA also will remain closed under the Phase 3 guidelines, Kevin Lembke, the park’s president, told the James City County’s Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
“The 1,000-patron limit does keep us out of business. It is not an economically sustainable model for us” to reopen,” Lembke told the board.
That means Busch Gardens may not reopen until “well into July” and “Water Country USA is at risk of not reopening at all this season,” he said.
“We are extremely disappointed in this guidance [for Phase 3] and feel it does not accurately take into account the comprehensive safety plan our parks have put forward,” Lembke said.
The amusement parks are being lumped into businesses like bowling alleys, he said.
Amusement parks in other states don’t have similar restrictions.
Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., which owns Kings Dominion and 11 other parks, has announced plans to reopen some of its properties. For instance, Kings Island near Cincinnati will open July 2, while Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio is planning a July 9 opening.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, the parent company of Busch Gardens, has reopened seven of its parks with capacity limitations including SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and SeaWorld San Antonio.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg would limit attendance to 5,000 to 7,000 guests at any time under a plan to safely reopen the park while also providing the necessary revenue to operate, Lembke said.
Kings Dominion said it has developed protocols to safely reopen the park in accordance with governmental and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directives as well as with the Virginia Department of Health.
“Many amusement parks across the United States have already successfully reopened with similar protocols,” Sellers said.
Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens would require patrons to make a reservation prior to a visit. Kings Dominion would require a guest to complete a pre-visit health screening declaration 24 hours prior to admission.
Both parks would require temperature screening for all guests and employees before entering the park.
Patrons and employees at both Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens would be required to wear masks and the parks would use social distancing markers including ride queue lines.
“We are hopeful that our plan for re-opening will receive serious consideration and that a separate decision will be made in short order for amusement parks in Virginia,” Sellers said.