How Giant Ferris Wheels Will Change The World [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe
Who doesn’t love a spin on a Ferris wheel? How about taking a ride high above the skylines of two popular American cities? A small Ferris wheel building boom is underway and the skylines of New York and Las Vegas could be in for a major change.
While both projects have been on the table for years; our lagging economy has pushed back their opening dates. Recent developments have given them both a major step forward, reigniting hopes of taking tourists high in the air.
I must admit, I get a little nervous about riding the super high wheels. I feel much safer on the ones with enclosed carriages. The one at Six Flags Great Adventure, and another on the amusement pier at Wildwood (both in New Jersey), are a little bigger than I can handle. When I was a kid, you couldn’t get me on one. I still shudder at the thought of riding one at some of the shady carnivals, but I’m more than happy to climb aboard the greatest of them all – The Wonder Wheel on Coney Island.
Since the London Eye became a major tourist draw after opening in 2000, some US developers have added the wheels as a perk to some high profile construction jobs.
Just a short train ride outside of Manhattan, is the new Meadowlands Sports complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, currently home to the New York Giants and New York Jets. As part of the redevelopment of the area, along with the new stadium, came construction of the IZOD Center (a concert venue and arena) and the Xanadu Meadowlands (a giant shopping mall.)
The stadium and the arena opened to much fanfare in both 2010 and 2009 respectively. But, the mall that is a sadder story. Originally envisioned to be the largest shopping center in the country surpassing The Mall of America in Minneapolis; the center was to have several shopping districts, a live television studio for cooking demos and fashion shows, an indoor ski rink, and a giant Ferris wheel.
Construction on the mall began in 2004 and was set to open two years later. The mall was 70% leased with major tenants to include Virgin Mega-store, Cabela’s Sporting Goods, and more. However, the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy caused the property to change hands several times.
The exterior was painted a hideous array of colors that the former governor of New Jersey, Richard Codey called “yucky-looking.” He’s right. It’s pretty bad.
As part of the project, Pepsi is sponsoring the construction of a 330ft tall Ferris wheel called, The Pepsi Globe. The logo would be so large, that it could be easily seen miles away on the west side of Manhattan and for those to the West it would be in the foreground of the New York skyline view. The 26 capsule structure was set to be the largest in North America. The project was originally put on hold to avoid disrupting the 2009 New Jersey Nets season. Rumor has it that only a few cement slabs were placed for the base of the giant wheel.
Another issue plaguing construction was opposition from the Federal Aviation Administration over the wheel’s location being so close to flight paths for both Newark-Liberty International Airport and Teterboro Airport. As a result, the height was lowered to 287 feet.
However after gaining FAA approval, construction has not resumed. The mall finally got a new owner, the Triple Five Group, and construction is set to start again. As part of their plans, the outside will be repainted a much more pleasant blue, a new indoor water park and entertainment dome will be added, and the name changed to “American Dream Meadowlands.”
While there has been no word on construction for the Pepsi Globe, they have the necessary federal approval and it still appears in drawings and on the developer’s website.
At this point, it looks like the once bankrupt mall will finally open and become the largest shopping and entertainment complex in the United States with over 3 million square feet of space. Will the Pepsi Globe happen? If it does, you won’t be able to miss it from the New Jersey Turnpike or the West Side Highway. Imagine what a giant glowing Pepsi logo look from the top floor of the Empire State Building would look like at night.
Another large Ferris wheel project that has been on the books for quite some time is to be located on the famous Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For years, several companies have announced plans and conceptual drawings for another London Eye sized wheel. At one point, it was to be part of a new London themed casino. Later, it was to be the centerpiece of an outdoor street fair mall between Harrah’s and the Flamingo casinos. At another point, it was to be located just off of the Strip, next to the Rio.
After refining the size to again meet FAA height requirements to the nearby McCarren International Airport, the wheel now has an approved location across the street from the Mandalay Bay and next to the Tropicana casinos.
The original idea for the Vegas wheel was created by Voyager Entertainment. Voyager has designed other entertainment attractions throughout the world. Their only problem, they kept attaching the wheel to projects that never got off the drawing board. One by one, the companies could not secure funding and the resorts were never developed.
However in May, the Clark County Commission has officially approved a permit for The Skyvue Las Vegas Super Wheel Project. The wheel will have 40 gondolas and will be 500 feet tall. It will be largest in the Western Hemisphere and the third tallest in the world. The project will include 200,000 square feet of restaurants, shops, and entertainment at the base, but not a casino. Each car will hold 20 to 25 passengers and have back up air conditioning in case of power failure in the hot desert heat.
A smaller temporary 200 foot wheel will be erected right away and then be replaced by the final taller unit. If this project happens, it is scheduled to open as early as 2013 and has already broken ground. However, they still have to secure $175 million in funding to complete. There are still rumors that Caesar’s may still pursue constructing there’s as well, however they have not received permission from the county, they have however secured their funding.
Across the pond, the London Eye was constructed in 1999 to mark the new millennium and as a new tourist attraction for the city of London. The results have been better than expected. The eye was officially opened on December 31, 1999 just barely in time for the new year by Prime Minister Tony Blair. But, due to mechanical problems, it did not open to the public until March 2.
At times, the wheel has suffered some serious financial issues, but has always been a draw for tourists. In June 2008, it was announced that more than 30 million people have ridden since it opened. Passengers are free to move about inside the cars and it takes 30 minutes to complete one revolution. The wheel does not stop for passengers to enter and exit, instead it moves at such a slow speed that it is easy to step on and off at ground level.
Seeing the draw this wheel has become, developers have begun to add these as part of global redevelopment projects. The London Eye was the largest Ferris wheel in the world, until the Star of Nanchang opened in China, only to be eclipsed by the Singapore Flyer.
The first official Ferris wheel was constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, however earlier “pleasure wheels” can be traced back to the 17th century. The original wheel was made entirely of steel and moved around Chicago before ending up at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. From there on, the name “Ferris” stuck.
While many parks around the world have their own signature versions, my favorite is the Wonder Wheel at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island, New York. While Coney Island is famous for its hot dogs and the Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel is definitely a unique experience on its own.
What makes the Wonder Wheel so unique is the layout of the cars. There are the standard cars affixed to the outside, but upon closer inspection, there are a second set of that travel along a rail rotating on the inside of the wheel. These cars slide and rock back forth as the wheel turns. It is definitely a unique and at times scary experience. A similar version was constructed in the early 2000’s at Disney’s California Adventure. But the feeling of those old steel cars with the old wooden seats swinging and at times rolling forward to what looks we’re going off the edge is amazing. My grandparents rode the same wheel way back in the day and it’s still the exact same ride today!
So will the New York and Vegas wheels ever be built? I hope so. I understand the necessity of selling sponsorship; I just hope the giant Pepsi logo doesn’t become more of an eyesore, instead of a unique attraction.
Name: Ferris wheels
What: a rotating upright wheel of passenger cars
First official opening: Chicago 1893
Link to Pepsi Globe developer site: http://americandream.com
Link to Skyvue Las Vegas illustrations: http://www.lushbling.com/the-skyvue-las-vegas-40984.htm
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: It is exciting to see these signature attractions at amusement parks, but it’s another when a town or developer makes one so large that they can be seen for miles. I love the idea of developers adding these as almost a perk to major construction projects, but most don’t make it off of the ground. I hope that both New York and Vegas get theirs. Heck, Vegas has two different developers going at it for one!
The New York wheel would offer incredible views of the city and I would give anything to see the Vegas strip at night high up in cool, air conditioned comfort. Let’s hope these projects get going and don’t end up mere pipe dreams due to lack of funding. It has been proven that they will bring tourists, tourists bring money, and money brings jobs. Right now, with how bad our world is getting, who couldn’t use a nice, safe, 30 minute ride into the sky?
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