Eye on Staten Island: world's biggest Ferris wheel coming in 2015

New York City officials envision the Ferris wheel doing for Staten Island what the London Eye did for the south bank of the Thames – making it a top tourist destination with great views.

Office of the Mayor of New York/AP
This image shows an artist's rendering of a proposed 625-foot Ferris wheel, billed as the world's largest, planned as part of a retail and hotel complex along the Staten Island waterfront in New York.

New York has more than its share of “big wheels” riding the streets in stretch limos and shuttling to their weekend oceanfront cottages in helicopters.

But starting in 2015, it will be able to claim it has the biggest wheel – a Ferris wheel that will be larger than the Eye in London, taller than the Singapore Flyer, and beating out the planned High Roller wheel in Las Vegas.

The as-yet-unnamed New York Wheel – the working name for the moment – will be 625 feet tall, which is 84 feet higher than the Singapore wheel, which is currently the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. It will be built on the waterfront on Staten Island only a short walk from the Staten Island ferry terminal.

“The Ferris wheel will be Staten Island’s Eiffel Tower,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York. “The Ferris wheel will be iconic – people will send postcards to their friends and relatives, you’ll find its picture on refrigerators and coffee tables around the world, people will get engaged on it, children will be born on it, milestones will be celebrated on it.”

Senator Schumer, who was at the press conference announcing the project with other officials, recalls visiting the London Eye with his family several years ago. “You see it as you land and you say, ‘I want to go there,’ ” he said. “The same thing is going to happen here.”

At least that’s what officials hope. The Staten Island ferry, the third most popular tourist destination in New York, carries about 2 million tourists a year. But most of them just hop off the ferry at St. George terminal in Staten Island and then catch the next ferry back to Manhattan. Officials envision the $230 million New York Wheel as a way to keep them on Staten Island.

The Eye “brought people to that part of London, and it will bring people to this part of Staten Island,” said Schumer. One suggested name: the Staten Eye.

The major attraction of the new Ferris wheel will be the “breathtaking” views, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Riders will look out across New York Harbor and will see the Statue of Liberty, which is 305 feet from ground level to the tip of the torch, as well as the New York skyline. The Verrazano Bridge will be visible, as well as parts of New Jersey. Riders will look down on a baseball stadium where the minor league Staten Island Yankees play.

Once ferry riders leave the terminal, officials are hoping they also stop at a planned retail outlet mall, Harbor Commons, the first such facility in the city. They hope to entice what they term “suitcase tourists,” who currently buy a suitcase and then take a bus or rent a car to go to Woodbury Commons, an outlet mall about an hour north of the city.

For a long time, the residents of Staten Island felt removed from New York. There have been rumblings about seceding since many residents feel the Democrat-controlled city institutions ignore Republican Staten Island.

At the press conference, borough president James Molinaro recounted that Mr. Bloomberg was reelected for his third term because he received so many votes on the island. “He didn’t forget,” said Mr. Molinaro.

The island also has a different social and cultural makeup – more similar to suburbia than a crowded borough. Although Staten Island has only 5 percent of the city’s population, it has 18 percent of its automobile registrations. Under Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the fare to take the Staten Island ferry was eliminated so residents would not have to pay two fares if they took the bus to the ferry.

There have been other plans to revitalize the St. George area in the past. On the ferry ride to the press conference, Bloomberg recalled that one of his former economic development czars had proposed building a tram that would go from lower Manhattan to Staten Island and then Red Hook in Brooklyn. “A brilliant idea,” he told reporters. It never got built.

Visitors to the Ferris wheel will also be able to visit a memorial to the 257 Staten Island residents who were killed on 9/11. Bloomberg said the large number of Staten Island residents who died was emblematic of the island as a bedroom community for municipal workers.

However, the island itself has changed over the years. In the past, the population was mostly Caucasian. Today, notes Bloomberg, it is far more diverse with a large Sri Lankan population as well as several mosques.

Officials envision many New Yorkers being attracted to the Ferris wheel. In London, each Londoner has visited the Eye an average of four times during the past decade, says Richard Marin, the president and chief executive officer of New York Wheel, the developer. “We think the residents of New York will consider this a major attraction in and of itself.”

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