CPC Approves Modifications to New York Wheel

Conceptual rendering of the North site view of the New York Wheel and New York Harbor. Image credit: NYCEDC

Conceptual rendering of the North site view of the New York Wheel and New York Harbor. Image credit: NYCEDC

The changes include a larger parking facility with rooftop open space and a reduction in the size of the Wheel’s terminal building.  On October 7, 2015, the City Planning Commission approved changes to the construction plan for the New York Wheel, which will be the largest Ferris Wheel in the Western Hemisphere.  The New York Wheel will be built on a City-owned plot of land that is located a half-mile from the Staten Island Ferry in St. George and currently serves as a parking lot for the Richmond County Bank Ballpark and the St. George Ferry Terminal.

The original plans for the New York Wheel were approved by the CPC on September 11, 2013.  The amended plan approved on October 7 maintains the original plan for the construction of a 625-foot-tall observation wheel with a maximum capacity of 1,440 passengers.  The new plan provides for a larger parking garage that will be more than 30,000 square-feet larger than the originally-planned parking facility and will be more open to allow for natural air ventilation.  The new plan further amends the secondary attractions provided within the Wheel’s terminal building.  The originally-planned full-service restaurant has been removed, and a beer hall has been added to the building’s terrace.

On September 9, 2015, the CPC held a public hearing on the changes.  Eight speakers testified in favor of the changes and six spoke in opposition.  Rich Marin, CEO of New York Wheel, testified that re-initiating the ULURP process to have these changes approved has delayed the New York Wheel’s opening date by a few months.  The Wheel was due originally to open in the beginning of 2017, and is now expected to open in the middle of 2017.

Commission member Cheryl Cohen Effron questioned Marin about whether there were any planned avenues of income other than the ticket price for the Wheel, such as advertising and sponsorship.  Marin testified to a list of the Wheel’s revenue-generating features.  The ticket price will provide the main source of income, but there will also be food, beverages, and souvenirs available for sale.  The New York Wheel’s secondary attraction will be a “4-D experience that talks about the New York Harbor,” which will be a show created by the same group that is responsible for the Smithsonian simulators.  The largest LED-lighted canvas in the world will illuminate nightly and display a “spectacular light show,” and, according to Marin, the CPC’s restrictive regulations will insure that “they won’t be allowed to put logos or words in there that would be suggestive of advertising.”

Commission member Anna Hayes Levin raised her concerns over seeing the project remain “a fantastic attraction with great open space that happens to have some parking attached to it, and not a project that has morphed into a parking garage.”  Michael Harwood, a resident of St. George, echoed Commission member Levin’s concerns by comparing the renderings provided at the hearing of the original planned parking facility with that of the new parking facility plan.  Harwood testified that the new facility is completely open, and will have an exposed parking ramp filled with idol automobiles directly adjacent to a children’s playground, which is a stark difference from the completely covered parking facility that was in the original plan.

Other local residents voiced concerns over the degree of haste taken in pushing the new changes through the ULURP process. Staten Island Community Board 1 was forced to hold a special meeting in July to discuss the changes to the project.  Marin testified, however, that delaying the Wheel’s opening date past mid-2017 could jeopardize the Wheel’s funding because of current contractual obligations.

Community Board 1 voted 25-4 in favor of the new construction plans on July 21, 2015.  The City Council will consider be the next to vote on the construction plan amendments.

CPC: New York Wheel Special Permit Mod  (150447–ZSR) (Oct. 7, 2015).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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