Staten Island Advance
September 30, 2012
The 'New York Wheel' portends a new era for Staten Island
It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, the idea of having the world’s largest observation wheel on the St. George waterfront seemed preposterous. Now, this once-far-fetched idea is well on its way to becoming reality.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it official on Thursday as he formally announced the sweeping plans at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George.
Starneth, the engineering firm that built the London Eye, will design and build what’s being called (for now) the New York Wheel. Construction is expected to begin in early 2014 with a grand opening planned for the end of 2015. The projected cost is $230 million, all coming from private investment. No government funding will be used.
At 625 feet high - the height of a 60-story building - the Wheel in St. George will be much taller than its counterpart in London, and taller even than the Singapore Flyer, currently the world’s tallest observation wheel and the High Roller wheel planned for Las Vegas.
It will have 36 enclosed, air-conditioned capsules, each of which will have a capacity of 40 people. During peak season, it’s expected to attract 30,000 riders per day. It’s projected to draw 4.5 million visitors to Staten Island every year.
But there’s much more to this project than just the New York Wheel. The mayor also announced that BFC Partners will build Harbor Commons, a 420,000-square-foot retail complex adjacent to the Wheel and ballpark. It will house up to 75 designer outlet stores and a 120,000-square-foot hotel, with a 15,000-square-foot banquet facility.
The city, which owns the property, will reap $2.5 million in rent annually from the leases to the developers.
In all, the city’s Economic Development Corp. projects that these developments will bring in $480 million in private investment, create more than 1,200 construction jobs and 1,100 permanent jobs, and net nearly $100 million in new tax revenue for the city over the next 30 years.
The mayor said, “The New York Wheel will be an attraction unlike any other in New York City - even unlike any other on the planet.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, who was on hand for the announcement, said the Wheel will be “Staten Island’s Eiffel Tower.”
Borough President James Molinaro was more direct in asserting that, in terms of the economy and the culture, “It’s a game-changer for Staten Island. We’ve gone from having the world’s biggest dump to having the world’s biggest wheel.”
Having this internationally famous attraction here will accomplish the long-standing goal of luring tourists off the ferries. And with a hotel, upscale shops and restaurants nearby, Staten Island will finally become the tourist destination so many have wanted it to be. Snug Harbor Cultural Center, the Staten Island Zoo and other overlooked attractions in this borough will certainly prosper as a result.
Mr. Bloomberg said, “They [tourists who never leave the ferry] are missing out on all the things that Staten Island has to offer - and Staten Island has been missing out on the jobs and the economic activity that comes with tourism. That is going to change.”
As is to be expected, there are those who are skeptical about the plan, and mistakenly cite more mundane issues such as tolls, underfunding of libraries and senior centers and other more practical concerns in opposing to this imposing. But again, while the city will collect rent and taxes from the waterfront site, this is not a government project. The decision to build all this is being driven by private investors who see the opportunity to make a profit. That’s not taking funding away from government programs. Indeed, the project will generate more revenue with which government can pay for popular programs.
Naturally, with anything of this scale, there are concerns that need to be addressed.
The Wheel and the shopping component will take up most of the existing parking space on the 14-acre site, but the Bloomberg administration insists that those parking spots - and then some - will be replaced with underground parking decks. EDC says there will be roughly 2,200 parking spaces - 600 more than are now on the site.
That should be etched in stone. We understand that most of the tourists who come to take a ride on the Wheel will likely arrive by ferry, but we imagine that a lot of other people will drive into the city from other parts of this country. Parking and driving in St. George is a headache as it is now. An attraction that brings in 4.5 million visitors from around the world isn’t going to help matters, no matter how most of them arrive.
The city and the developers need to step up before the grand opening and make sure the infrastructure in the community can handle that additional load from Day One.
That said, we agree with Mr. Molinaro that this is going to be a “game-changer” for the North Shore, the entire borough and the city. Every possible step must be taken to insure that change is all to the good.
© 2012 SILive.com