A 400-foot Ferris wheel, complete with a light show and museum exhibits, would be downtown’s next big attraction if proposers of the Skywheel at Discovery Point get the nod from the San Diego Unified Port District.
The $200 million project at G Street Mole, just south of the USS Midway Museum, is just one of three competing Ferris wheels the port board will discuss next week as it decides if now is the time to act before it completes its bay-wide master plan.
The proposals came from developers Charles Black and David Malmuth in partnership with SeaWorld; Allegis Development, headed by Kip Howard; and Chance American Wheels, represented by Molly Bowman Styles, according to the San Diego Unified Port District. A fourth proposal by Bruce Denham of San Diego Bay Adventures has been withdrawn.
The Black-Malmuth Skywheel will be previewed Wednesday by the Environment + Design Council, a coalition of various architectural and planning groups that will meet at noon at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design downtown.
Called the San Diego Skywheel at Discovery Point, the $200 million project would include a 400-foot wheel and a three-level, 420-space parking garage topped by a 30,000-square-foot pavilion on the parking lot at the G Street Mole, just south of Navy Pier and the USS Midway Museum. SeaWorld would maintain and operate the attraction.
The wheel would be smaller than the 443-foot London Eye and Las Vegas’ 550-foot High Roller but more than three times the size of the San Diego County Fair’s 112-foot Grand Wheel in Del Mar. It would be outfitted with digitally controlled lighting and the pavilion would display exhibits from local museums and institutions to introduce visitors to San Diego’s history and accomplishments. Its 30 gondolas would transport 25 riders each in 30-minute rotations for 1.7 million to 2.3 million annually. The admission price is projected at $25 to $30.
“The story we wanted to tell was the San Diego story, how precious our environment is,” Malmuth said. “That story can only be told when you’re actually seeing, touching and feeling it… Our hope is what you walk away with is a renewed understanding of the preciousness of this place and what an incredibly special place San Diego plays in this ecosystem.”
Funding would come from investors who have not yet been identified, Malmuth said.
The port staff has suggested all wheel proposals be presented at the board’s Feb. 10 meeting and seek direction how they should be analyzed.
But outgoing board chairman Bob Nelson said it is premature to consider any of them until the port’s new master plan is completed over the next four years. The board will set its February agenda at next Tuesday’s meeting.
“I feel it is totally inappropriate to consider any such major new project when we have not even started on the process of determining the best types of uses in the very limited developable land we have,” Nelson said.
Diane Coombs, cochairwoman of the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition that also monitors general downtown waterfront issues, called the project “dead on arrival.”
“We’ve had enough walling off” of the waterfront, Coombs said. “There’s nothing that says if you want a Ferris wheel, it can’t go anywhere else in San Diego. It’s not water dependent.”
However, Kris Michell, president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership business group, endorsed the wheel as yet another reason to visit the waterfront.
“I think it will activate the waterfront and be a financial driver for the waterfront,” Michell said. “If anyone has seen the London Eye, they rave about it. And it’s a great way to have the history of the areas explained as you’re rising about it. It is to me a fabulous idea.”
Jim Wendler, president of the Fish Market restaurants that has had an eatery at G Street Mole since 1989, said he had talked to the Black-Malmuth team but considers their plan “crazy.”
“Something like that would have a severely negative impact, not just through construction but through an ongoing period afterwards,” Wendler said.
He said even at the end of the Fish Market’s lease about 15 years from now, he could imagine some upgrades and improvements but nothing as dramatic as the Skywheel.
“We would not have something this crazy,” he said.
The Skywheel is the second high-rise attraction proposed on the North Embarcadero. The first was the 500-foot “Wings of Freedom,” a $35 million sail-like sculpture proposed in 2011 at the foot of Navy Pier by the Midway Museum and to be funded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Denny Sanford.
The port board received a presentation but set aside any decision pending approval of a new master plan for the entire bay and redevelopment of Navy Pier. That plan may not be completed until 2019, the year when Black and Malmuth hope their wheel will open. They say the port could collect $3 million of the projected $40 million annual revenues if attendance hits the 2 million mark
Black is best known as the former president of the San Diego Padres who led construction of Petco Park and the surrounding development. He currently is CEO of CB Urban Development.
Malmuth continues as a partner on the >I.D.E.A. District in downtown’s East Village, a multiblock residential and commercial development aimed at promoting the neighborhood’s budding emphasis on innovation, design, education and the arts — hence the district name.
Besides SeaWorld, other team members include Starneth, the wheel designer; Entertainment + Culture Advisors for economic analysis; McCarthy Building, general contractor; Greenhaus, marketing and branding; and Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, public and community relations.
Howard said his Allegis Development proposal would place a similarly sized wheel along with an as-yet undetermined entertainment component at Seaport Village as part of its redevelopment. He is partnership with developers of the Orlando Eye due to open this spring near Disney World But he said the Seaport operators, Terramar Retail Centers which also operates the adjacent Headquarters at Seaport District, has not yet signed on to the idea.
Details of the Chance American Wheels proposal were not available.
Beijing Great Wheel, 693 feet, $290, proposed
London Eye, 443 feet, $113 million, opened in 2000
High Roller, Las Vegas, 520 feet, cost not released, opened in 2013
Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, 160 feet, cost not released, opened in 2001
Orlando Eye, 400 feet, $90 million, scheduled to open in 2015
Source: Observation Wheel Directory