Urban Ferris Wheels Offer More Than Entertainment


What’s cheaper than a towering skyscraper, as tourist-friendly as a museum, takes up less space than a major shopping mall and can be built in a few years? The answer might be more fun than expected: urban Ferris wheels.

Ferris wheels offer a unique vantage point for sightseeing, and developers are increasingly turning to these sky-high attractions as a way to draw traffic to underutilized parts of a city. In fact, close to 40 wheels have popped up around the globe in the last decade alone, some reaching heights of over 500 feet.

The Seattle Great Wheel, for example, was built when grandfather-and-grandson team Hal and Kyle Griffith wanted to revitalize the often overlooked Pier 57, a long-standing pier on Seattle’s downtown waterfront. After three years of construction, the 175-foot-tall wheel opened in 2012 and is the crowning jewel of the now-bustling waterfront.


An artist’s rendering of the New York Wheel on Staten Island. (S9 Architecture/Perkins Eastman)

Similarly, developers of the New York Wheel—expected to open in 2017, standing at 630 feet tall—didn’t just choose Staten Island because of the available land. Although one of the five boroughs of New York City, Staten Island is often passed up as a tourist hot spot—with the significant exception of tourists availing themselves of the extraordinary views from the Staten Island Ferry. But once the wheel is completed on the New York Harbor along the North Shore of the island, visitors and locals alike will have more reason to linger in the area, and it will become its own destination.

“The wheel will be located on New York Harbor, which we consider to be the gateway to America,” says New York Wheel CEO Rich Marin. “The Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan and Ellis Island will all be visible from the wheel.”

As for the surrounding area, Marin says the neighborhood is already undergoing massive development to provide tourists and locals with outlet shops, restaurants, hotels and other attractions. More than 70,000 people take the Staten Island Ferry from the North Shore into Manhattan each day for work, and developers are hopeful that the wheel will entice some of them to the area for enjoyment.

Other towering urban wheels are built simply to offer a better viewpoint of a city’s greatest offerings. When the Dubai Eye opens in late 2017, the 689-foot wheel will be the tallest in the world and will be the main attraction at the Bluewaters Island development, a man-made island off the coastline of Dubai, near the Dubai Marina. Visitors will enjoy a 360-degree view of the city’s skyline—including the Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa and Palm Jumeirah.


The Millennium Wheel (or London Eye) offers some of the best views of London.

The London Eye—recently renamed the Coca-Cola London Eye—was opened in 2000 to honor the millennium and quickly became the most popular ticketed tourist attraction in the country. Similar to the Dubai Eye, developers selected a spot along the River Thames and across from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey so that the 3.75 million annual visitors could get a sweeping view of London’s greatest landmarks.

While Ferris wheels are becoming iconic parts of many urban skylines, it’s the business improvements on the ground that are most exciting to developers and communities alike. By bringing in thousands, even potentially millions, of tourists each year, urban wheels offer increased foot traffic, and in turn, increased sales to the surrounding local businesses.

As for the New York Wheel, Marin says: “Together, the projects will generate over $750 million in private investment, and create over 1,100 construction jobs and 1,300 permanent jobs.”

While upcoming projects will take a couple of years from concept to completion, there’s only one way to know for sure if an urban wheel is coming to your city: Keep your eye on the sky.


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