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New Looks, Details Unveiled for S.I.'s Enormous Ferris Wheel

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The giant observation wheel slated for Staten Island's northern waterfront, touted to be the tallest in the world and temporarily named the New York Wheel, is one of the most buzzed-about city projects of the decade. We've already reported the numbers, as well as some mindbogging visuals: a 630-foot tall structure that will be open almost 365 days a year, will hold about 1,400 people per hour in its 36 capsules, each of which will make 38-minute rotations at a rate of about 10 inches per second. But at a presentation last night at laminate manufacturer Trespa's Soho headquarters President and CEO Rich Marin divulged more details about a plan that can be described as completely grandiose, brilliant, and outrageous. Marin's goal is to make it an icon for visitors, not mere amusement. "We want to make this feel not like they are going to Coney Island," Marin said, "but like they are going to the St. Louis Arch or the Washington Monument." Here now, the most interesting tidbits we learned:

12) The timeline (a.k.a. when it will be done): The wheel just entered the city's ULURP approval process and is now at the stage of getting signatures from community boards. The team will need to get the necessary "yays" from the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the mayor?all before the Bloomberg administration leaves office. The goal is to break ground in the spring of 2014, with a grand opening on July 4, 2016 after two years of construction.

11) Sizing up the competition: The New York Wheel will be significantly taller than the structures it considers models, the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer. But then there's the matter of a rival in the Middle East. "Dubai is saying they are putting up a 688-foot wheel. I'm on the record saying, 'That's great, you can see more sand,'" Marin said. "Big is not the only issue here. Big and well-located are the issues here. It's [in] the gateway to America."

10) Seeking sponsorship: Right now the name is the New York Wheel, but Marin is on the hunt for a sponsor and says he has interested parties all lined up. So it's definitely going to be The Something Wheel. We've already got Citi Field... so will it be the J.P. Morgan Wheel?

9) What it'll look like: On the site now is a chain-link fence and hundreds of parking spots for commuters. Marin and his team (led by Navid Maqami at Perkins Eastman) have to replace the parking spots, but they plan to blanket the garage and the wheel's terminal (housing a restaurant, shop, major sustainability exhibition, and the like) with green space upon which the public can frolic. The site's design will be tweaked over the next year, but across the eight-acre expanse, the wheel and landscaping will take center stage; the buildings will be downplayed. Public paths along the waterfront are a priority, and the goal is to use the green space surrounding the wheel for open-air concerts and events.

8) Cost and Attendance: The cost to ride the wheel will be about $25/ride. A fast pass of sorts to cut the line will cost more, while kids and seniors will cost less. It's comparable to the Empire State Building. They expect 80 percent of the visitors to be tourists. The cost of construction has increased, from an initial estimate of $250 million to $300 million, so what will it take to break even? "If we get a 1.5 million people [a year] we're still making a little money," Marin said. "There are currently 2 million non-locals on the ferry every year."

7) Food with a view: Time for a chuckle. In the terminal building will be a restaurant with harbor views, literally situated between between the straddled legs that hold up the wheel. Jokes Marin: "A bar called 'Between The Legs" is probably not appropriate here, but that is where it is."

6) Just for kids: At this point, 14,000 square feet towards the western side of the site has been designated as a space-age playground. Some elements will resemble the wheel itself, according to M. Paul Friedberg and Partners landscape architect Rick Parisi, to keep the theme going. There will also be a zipline, as well as slides built into the low hills that surround the blob-shaped park on all sides.

5) How to get there: Most visitors, the logic goes, will take the free Staten Island ferry. Marin is currently in talks with different ferry companies, water taxis, and other sea-faring transit options so that visitors could come via New Jersey or other parts of the five boroughs besides just the Battery. The wheel will be located a short walk?1,200 feet?from the S.I. ferry terminal.

4) Let there be lights!: So, there will be a lot of fireworks, and not just on July 4. The Staten Island Yankees, whose ballpark is next door to the wheel, set off fireworks after every home game, and Marin plans to collaborate with them. Beyond that, the 72 spokes of the wheel will be lit with specially programmable LED lights that can be seen from across the city. Marin plans to change up the designs depending on the day?say, a pink heart for Valentine's Day, a green four-leaf clover for St. Patrick's Day, or a jack o' lantern for Halloween. Catering to the city's glut of Chinese tourists, the wheel can even get dolled up for Chinese New Year. ("City Planning said, 'It's kind of visible,' and we said, 'That's the point,'" Marin said.) Special evening events are in the works, like special champagne flights, and just like the Empire State Building, on some nights the wheel will stay open until 2 or 3 a.m.

3) What you'll see: Marin and co. checked out the potential views by taking a helicopter ride, hovering at the 630-foot height of the wheel, and assessing what visitors will be able to see besides the obvious perspective of downtown Manhattan. The verdict? Part of Central Park. The harbor, George Washington Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and other parts of the five boroughs and New Jersey. "We're allowing people to view the Verrazzano, which people never see," Marin said. "We're going to see the ocean. We're going to see the docks up the Kill Van Kull."

2) Community response: Marin and his team have been meeting about twice a week with Staten Island residents and officials. They've faced some concerns from the neighborhood that the wheel won't be prepared to withstand a superstorm like Sandy, so they have elevated it to be well above FEMA's storm surge estimation. It's also designed to stay upright in a Category 3 hurricane, one of which last hit the city in the 1930s and carried with it 129 mph winds. Surprisingly, not that many folks are concerned about their Manhattan views being compromised, except for (and this is Marin speaking) a few "little old ladies up on that hill [behind the wheel] who don't like anything new." He adds: "You can't put up a 630-foot wheel and not block somebody's view."

1) Property values: It could very well be the time to buy property in St. George?but maybe you've already missed the boat. (Or ferry, as the case may be. ZING.) Marin reports that according to Zillow, real estate prices in the town that surrounds the wheel have "gone up faster than any other area in New York, including West 57th Street." He assured audience members that he was not buying up any land. Said Marin: "We are doing the wheel, and that's enough."

· New York Wheel [official]
· Here Now, the SHoP-Designed Outlet Mall Coming to S.I. [Curbed]
· It's Official! Staten Island to Get World's Largest Ferris Wheel [Curbed]
· All New York Wheel coverage [Curbed]