New York City this week will officially break ground on a spot near the Staten Island Ferry terminal where the worlds tallest observation wheel will rise unless Dubai builds a bigger one first. The Dubai Eye started erecting its 690-foot wheel a week ago. After it opens in the second quarter of 2017, the New York Wheel estimates it will host 3.5 million riders each year, with a likely ticket price of $35 for the 38-minute ride.
The $500-million project will include state-of-the-art technology in the climate-controlled cabins, permanent bar cars, a 20-seat dining car, and a nightly light show with its $7.5-million LED lights. The adjacent complex will offer a 4D ride, a beer garden, an amphitheater and a hotel. Naming rights haven’t yet been sold, but they are up for grabs, company officials have said.
Indeed, New York and Dubai are part of a gold rush of giant observation wheels that have sprung up in the wake of the surprising financial success of the 15-year-old London Eye, which was originally built as a temporary novelty.
Since 2001, six wheels higher than 150 feet have opened in the United States, with at least two more scheduled to open this year. Proposals have also been put forth for San Diego, Dallas and Jersey City, N.J. Another Las Vegas project, the 500-foot high SkyVue wheel, started construction in 2011 but remains on hold, developer David Baffin told Mashable.
The appeal extends overseas. Of the world’s 20 tallest wheels in operation, the only U.S. appearance is the High Roller. China claims eight spots, followed by Japan’s seven and Singapore, England, Australia, Vietnam with one each. The 400-foot Orlando Eye will eke into the Top 10 when it opens in Florida next month.
The New York Wheel’s goal is to attract some of the 3.6 million tourists who ride the free Staten Island Ferry each year, according to the calculations of the Independent Budget Office of NYC. Most of them currently take the 25-minute ride over — with excellent views of the Statue of Liberty — only to depart minutes later on the next ferry to Manhattan.
If they can get out of the terminal, Staten Island could lure tourists to its other cultural offerings such as the sprawling Snug Harbor cultural center built at a 19th Century sailors retirement home or the Yankees’ minor league waterfront stadium.
But no one should be waiting for Staten Island to turn into the next Brooklyn, which over the past decade turned into its own tourist destination selling all-things artisanal.
That mindset is shared by Anthony Catanoso, president of the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, where he aims to open a 200-foot wheel by New Year’s Eve. Initially he considered a 250-foot wheel but the “price projections didn’t make any sense,” he said. That’s even with low-interest loans the state’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority provided to help turn the Boardwalk into a year-round destination.
So what makes the wheels popular now, 122 years after the first Ferris wheel — at 264 feet — opened at the World Fair in Chicago? Read more…