By Jim Smith
Don’t tell anyone, but a proposal has been made to erect a 20-story-tall “Observation Wheel” on the beach at the end of Windward Avenue.
Great City Attractions, a company from Britain which specializes in big wheels (they don’t like to call them Ferris Wheels) says it could build the structure in ten days.
The company has several “transportable” wheels which they erect in a city for a period of time. The proposal for the Venice wheel is for two years. Whether the wheel would be new or one that had already been used at other locations was unclear.
A representative of Great City Attractions made an unannounced presentation to the July meeting of the Venice Chamber of Commerce. Reaction at that meeting was mixed, one of the participants told the Beachhead. Another said the company was trying to be “stealthy.”
But, according to Alex Rosales, President of the Venice Chamber, the company is simply considering us as one of several likely locations for a big wheel. He said at the officers meeting held Aug. 30, it appeared there was a consensus in favor of the wheel. Rosales said he believes the wheel would be beneficial to local businesses. He added that he would rather see the wheel further south near or in the Venice Blvd. parking lot on the beach.
Carol Tantau, Treasurer of the Venice Chamber, told the Beachhead that there has been no vote by her organization on the wheel. She said she told Nigel Ward from Great Cities Attractions that they would have to go “by the book” in getting permits from the City and from the Coastal Commission. She said the wheel looks safe and ecological.
Rosales said there was once a Ferris Wheel on the Windward Pier before it was torn down in 1949-50.
The wheel could be here for more or less than two years, according to Rosales. He said that Great Cities Attractions would be willing to add a clause in the contract that if the entire community was against it, they would disassemble it. On the other hand, if the community wanted it to stay after two years, the company would allow it.
According to Great Cities Attractions website, the company now has seven big wheels which range in height from 40 meters (the wheel proposed for Venice would be 60 meters) to 165 meters in Singapore. The latter is currently the largest wheel in the world, towering approximately 54 stories.
Several of their wheels are “transportable” and are moved from city to city. The wheel on the front page is one of these. It stood in York, England, until 2008, and may be the one that winds up in Venice.
How long has Venice been considered for a wheel? One of the documents distributed by Great Cities at the Chamber meeting is dated Jan. 10, 2011. Why have there been no community meetings for residents and others to give their opinions about the wheel?
The Venice Neighborhood Council has not discussed the wheel because no one has asked for it to be on the agenda, says Vice President Carolyn Rios. She said she had not heard of the proposal when contacted by the Beachhead.
Linda Lucks, President of the Council, said she had received an email from an aide to L.A. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl about two months ago saying that his office was sending her some material on a proposed beach attraction. Lucks said the material never arrived and she forgot about it until reminded by a call from the Beachhead.
“Where’s the parking?” Lucks responded when this reporter described the wheel to her. “Where are they going to put the cars of everyone who comes to see the wheel?” she exclaimed. “There’s already a Ferris Wheel on the Santa Monica Pier. Why do we need another one?”
Other community organizations that might have an interest in increased tourism and traffic have not known about the wheel proposal. In this activist-oriented community, the big wheel has truly been a stealth proposal.
Apparently no one has been aware of the proposal for a giant amusement attraction on the beach except for the Venice Chamber of Commerce and Bill Rosendahl.
The Great Cities Attractions handout touts the following advantages of the wheel:
• Boosted tourism numbers to cities and regions
• Increased dwell-time – important for the local retail offering
• Secondary spend to local businesses
• Many new jobs, including construction, operation and management roles
• Regeneration and enhancement of familiar locations.
It may come as a surprise to the British entrepreneurs that Venice already has all the tourism it needs. While there is no official count, Venice tourism is either the largest or second largest in Southern California.
Whether tourists spend money with local businesses may depend on how much the tickets cost to ride the wheel. Rosales says he believes the ticket price would be about $12.
The wheel in Manchester, England, also owned by Great Cities Attractions, charges £7.50, which converts to $12.41. A child’s ticket is $8.27. It is also possible to rent an entire VIP capsule (seats 4) and a half bottle of champagne for the equivalent of $124. Prices may vary in Venice.
Great Cities says about 40 jobs would be created locally and many of these would be filled locally.
The 200 foot (60 meters) tall wheel would not require a foundation and could easily be set up and dismantled. It would include 21 fully-enclosed, climate-controlled capsules for up to eight people.
None of the literature discusses how sturdy the wheel is when confronted with natural forces such as earthquakes or even gale-force winds that sometimes accompany winter storms out of the Pacific.
Power for the wheel could come from electric mains from DWP or with its own diesel generators on-site.
The proposal also claims quiet operation, with noise levels of 60 decibels at 10 meters.
The technology has come a long ways since George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. constructed the first modern wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Ferris’ wheel was actually larger than the one proposed for Venice. His wheel was 240 feet tall compared with 200 for the Venice wheel. In addition, it could carry many more people, although perhaps not in the quiet comfort afforded today.
Today’s wheels are actually Ferris Wheels, although promoters don’t like to call them that. The best known of the recent giant Ferris Wheels is the London Eye, or Millennium Wheel, erected in 1999. It has become the most popular tourist attraction in the United Kingdom and is visited by 3.5 million people annually.
It is much larger than the Venice wheel which likely would not attract so many people. But increased tourism and congestion, including parking, are going to weigh heavily on Venetians in deciding if they want this wheel.
What would Abbot Kinney say? He would probably be in favor of the wheel, if he got his cut of the profits. Kinney wanted a wide-open town with few restrictions on businesses. But his views may be as outdated as is the term, “Ferris wheel.”
Probably most of us would like to ride up 20 stories for the view. But how much neighborhood peace will we have to sacrifice if it brings hoards of new tourists?
In the final analysis, it may come down to “what’s in it for Venice.” Will all the revenue go downtown, or will some of it stay here in the community to deal with more auto and pedestrian congestion and trash? Or will it be up to the Chamber and Bill Rosendahl, leaving the rest of us out of the decision-making process?