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New thrills in Tampa? Busch says no
But letter says Busch Gardens plans major new coaster.
By Bob Mervine
The Business Journals
Updated: 04:00 PM PT  Feb. 08, 2004

TAMPA -- Will they or won't they?

Busch Gardens denies it has greenlighted a major expansion that would include a state-of-the-art thrill ride.

Despite the denial, though, a recent letter drafted by Busch Gardens to a visitor complaining of the lack of thrill rides states that " I spoke with our general manager, and ... you are going to be an extremely happy guest by 2005.

"The magnitude of this project in Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is definitely a first for roller coaster aficionados."

While not denying an expansion was being considered, "no project resembling this has been approved by the Anheuser Busch or Busch Entertainment board of directors," emphasizes Gerard Hoeppner, Busch Gardens director of public relations. "Anything close to that size would require their approval.

"We're always looking at future new ideas, but any announcement would be way too premature."

According to a source close to Busch Gardens, the expansion would be focused in Stanleyville, the portion of the park named after the famed explorer -- "Dr. Stanley, I presume" -- where visitors take a train through a veldt populated with African animals.

The centerpiece of the proposed expansion is a next-generation thrill ride described as a vertical dive coaster. Only two such rides exist, one in Taiwan and the other in the United Kingdom.

The Taiwan ride carries 16 riders straight down a 180-foot, near vertical -- 87.5 degree -- drop. The vehicles move along a 1,200-foot track at a top speed of 68 miles per hour before plummeting.

The proposed Busch Gardens version could include having the vehicle roll upside down and possibly go through an underground tunnel before plunging the vehicle and riders into a water splash area.

In order to fit the ride and its surrounding theme area into the Stanleyville space, an existing Smokehouse restaurant and the train station would have to be relocated. Construction could begin as early as 2004.

But for now, says Busch Gardens' Hoeppner, "We're focused on what's new this year. We've added a family coaster called Cheetah Chase and will open a Broadway-quality, live entertainment show called Katonga in April."

Busch Gardens is one of several theme parks, including SeaWorld Orlando, owned by Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc.

© 2004 The Business Journals
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