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Busch Gardens, Water Country USA opting to stay closed during Phase 3

The President of Busch Gardens and Water Country USA said the 1,000-person limit to capacity is not enough for them to operate during Phase 3.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Across the Commonwealth of Virginia, people are getting ready to enter Phase 3 of reopening next Wednesday.

Under Phase 3 guidelines, Gov. Ralph Northam will allow entertainment locations to reopen, but they have to limit their capacity to 1,000 people.

Kevin Lembke, the President of Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, said the 1,000 capacity limit is not going to work for them.

During a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Lembke said they’ve opted to stay closed during Phase 3 due to the limit.

Lembke said financially, the amusement parks can’t operate under that capacity.

“We are extremely disappointed in this guidance,” said Lembke.

“We also continue to be confused by the grouping of entertainment venues we are associated with in the guidance. Our parks are largely outdoor facilities spread across hundreds of acres, but we continue to be lumped in with businesses of unrelated models.”

Lembke said Busch Gardens will remain closed well into July, or even longer. Water Country USA runs the risk of not opening at all this season.

For Sarah Lohnes, a Virginia Beach mother, the announcement of the extended closure is a disappointment.

“Busch Gardens has become a tradition in our family. We went 15 times last year. It means a lot to us, we are pretty sad that it’s not opening,” said Lohnes.

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On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated his decision to continue erring on the side of caution.

“If we become complacent and don’t continue to follow these guidelines, then the possibilities are there that we would have to go back, I don’t wanna do that, I don’t think anybody wants to do that,” said Northam.

Lembke argued that amusement parks should have a higher capacity due to safety measures they would put in place before reopening. Lembke wants to have the ability to have between 5,000-7,000 guests at a time instead of a 1,000 person limit. 

Normally, Busch Gardens has a capacity of 24,000 visitors.

Some of the safety guidelines Busch Gardens has outlined for reopening include:

  • Mask requirements for guests and employees.
  • Personal Protective Equipment requirements for employees
  • Hands-free food distribution
  • Social distancing of at least six feet throughout the entire park.
  • Increased cleaning procedures and adding 300 sanitation stations throughout the park.

Lohnes said she hopes her family will be able to visit before August.

“It’s a lot at home, it’s easy to go there and just have fun with your family,” said Lohnes.

She said she would feel comfortable visiting the park despite COVID-19.

“I would, because everything’s outside, and we would eat at the outdoor dining section,” said Lohnes.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Sen. Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) argued that an extended closure of the amusement parks will hurt the Greater Williamsburg area economically.

“If we do not start getting visitors coming into Busch Gardens, the Historic Triangle economy is going to hemorrhage and there are going to be a lot of casualties,” said Norment.

“There are a lot of restaurant owners hanging on, waiting for Busch Gardens to open up. “

Norment, Del. Mike Mullin, (D-Newport News), and Sen. Monty Mason, (D-Williamsburg), said they’ve reached out to the Governor’s office to request an adjustment to the Phase 3 guidelines. 

They want the governor to allow amusement parks to operate at a higher capacity.

13News Now reached out to the governor’s office about the matter, but we have not heard back.

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