Seattle’s Great Wheel nearly ready to roll

  • By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
  • Friday, June 22, 2012 12:04pm
  • Life

A giant wheel is ready to roll on the Seattle waterfront.

Even before the Seattle Great Wheel’s scheduled Friday opening, the looming structure is already becoming a backdrop to many a family vacation photo.

Tourists at Pike Place Market recently were snapping images with the big white wheel framed behind them.

Rides on the wheel will offer visitors an unparalleled view of the city, Elliot Bay and mountains in every direction. It’s a new Seattle attraction sidling up with the 50-year-old Space Needle as a presence in the city’s skyline.

“It’s going to be spectacular,” said Troy Griffith, one of the owners.

It’s not technically a Ferris wheel, but it’s the same idea. George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. invented the popular ride for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Ferris wheels typically have open-air swings while the gondolas on Seattle’s wheel are enclosed, with heating and and air conditioning.

Towering nearly 200 feet above Pier 57, the roughly $15 million wheel has a sleek glossy white finish by day. At night, it will be illuminated by tiny LED bulbs that can change color, Griffith said.

For about $13, people will enter one of 42 gondolas for a ride that is expected to last about 12 minutes or three rotations, Griffith said.

“Looking back at the city, it’s going to be unique,” he said.

A special VIP gondola also is available with a glass bottom, entertainment console and plush, bucket seats. Details about the VIP tour, including the price, are still being worked out.

Each ride includes a narrated tour of the surroundings that is expected to be updated seasonally so the experience doesn’t get old for repeat visitors.

“It’s not just a ride for the view, it’s a ride for education and fun,” Hal Griffith said. He’s Troy’s dad, and the original developer of Pier 57’s attractions.

The Griffith family has operated souvenir shops, a working carousel and restaurants on Pier 57 since the 1960s. They converted a dilapidated warehouse into a popular tourist destination.

Today, Pier 57 is one of the many places for visitors on the waterfront in what once was the launching point for many a Gold Rush dream. But construction to replace Seattle’s aging viaduct is expected to begin this year. Soon the waterfront will be separated from Pike Place Market and the rest of the city by a colossal construction site.

The wheel is, in part, an effort to attract and draw tourists through the construction and keep the waterfront bustling, Troy Griffith said.

The idea for a wheel had been kicked around for decades. About three years ago, with the viaduct replacement looming, the wheel proposal took hold and the city gave the official OK, Griffith said.

Construction began earlier this year and included modifying the pier. New piles were driven and 60 cement trucks were used to build the platform.

Now the 178-foot-tall wheel — about 200 feet above Elliott Bay — is being fine-tuned before the gondola ride is open to the public.

Seattle’s wheel is smaller than the London Eye, which is 443 feet tall, and doesn’t come close to the tallest wheel, the Singapore Flyer, which is 541 feet high. A new wheel under construction in Las Vegas aims to be the world’s tallest at 550 feet.

Still, the Seattle Great Wheel already is a no-brainer addition to Seattle itineraries. It’s scheduled to open Friday but before you rush to check it out, it might be worth waiting to allow the owners to work out the kinks.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

Seattle Great Wheel

The Seattle Great Wheel is scheduled to open Friday at the end of Pier 57, 1301 Alaskan Way, Seattle. Operating hours are expected to be 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily. Admission is $13 for ages 12 and older, and $8 for younger than 12.

More information: www.seattlegreatwheel.com or 206-623-8600.

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