An enthusiastic Mayor Kasim Reed cut the ribbon on the new gigantic Ferris wheel in downtown Atlanta Tuesday, announcing it was yet another welcome attraction in a city that drew 40 million visitors last year.
“Things are only going to get better in downtown Atlanta,” said Reed. “Now let’s ride!”
Following the ceremonial snip, several hundred visitors, waiting in the noon heat, joined Reed in an inaugural ride on the SkyView, a gleaming white mandala, towering over the edge of downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park like a 198-foot wheel of chance.
That wheel has drawn Michelle Ruby’s eye for weeks. “I said I was going to be on the first ride,” said Ruby, who watched the wheel take shape on the way to her downtown office at the AmericasMart, where she sells gifts and housewares. Ruby won tickets for Tuesday’s ride in a Facebook contest, and brought three office mates with her, including business partner Barbara Knight.
“I was amazed at how beautiful it made the skyline,” said Knight.
SkyView’s boosters hope this wheel pays off for the house, as did the London Eye, the enormous Ferris wheel that opened in London just at the turn of the present century. The British attraction was criticized as a midway ride when it was proposed as a way for Londoners to celebrate the millennium. Though beset by financial problems, the monumental amusement became the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, and a symbol of the city. It draws 3.5 million visitors each year.
At 443 feet tall, the London Eye it is more than twice the height of SkyView.
Even the original Ferris wheel, designed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was slightly taller. The 264-foot Chicago wheel was a temporary structure and was disassembled twice. It was first moved in 1894 to Lincoln Park in Chicago and then to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair.
SkyView first opened in Paris, near the Louvre, and was moved to Bern, Switzerland, then to Pensacola, Fla. Managing partner Al Mers said the ride could accommodate up to 10,000 visitors a day, though it would make a profit on a much smaller number. He said he hopes the attraction draws 300,000 visitors a year.
The wheel sits on a pad containing more than 120,000 pounds of concrete.
General Manager Michael Montgomery met with inspectors Monday night and was still lining the gondolas with rolls of LED rope lights as the hours ticked down toward the ribbon cutting. A former career avionics expert in the Air Force, Montgomery views the daily three-hour maintenance and safety checks at SkyView as similar to the checks he performed with the 48th Fighter Wing in England. “It’s like being on the flight line and working on aircraft.”
A reporter rode the wheel Monday night, enjoying spectacular nighttime views of the city, including the light-speckled columns rising out of Centennial Olympic Park, the video screens outside the CNN Center and, to the north, the Westin Peachtree Plaza, the mesh-topped Bank of America Plaza and One Atlantic Center.
“It’s so pretty, I just want to stand here and watch it,” said Dionne Anderson, who walked from her downtown home to check on the wheel Monday night. “It’s like Vegas.”
If you go
A standard ride costs $13.50 for adults. It takes about 15 minutes, and includes four rotations of the wheel. Riders make the trip in one of 42 air-conditioned gondolas, each of which can carry six people.
A ride in the VIP gondola, with a television, glass floor and Ferrari leather seats, costs $50.
On AJC.com: More about the new Atlanta Ferris wheel