New York Wheel LLC

NY WheelThe New York Wheel is already bringing a fortune in development to Staten Island along with stunning views of New York Harbor and Manhattan.

By Russ Gager

The world is going ‘round and ‘round more and more as major cities throughout the world build bigger and bigger observation wheels, each trying to top the other with stunning views from dizzying heights.

One of the earliest of the new set of wheels in urban areas was the London Eye, situated on the South Bank of the River Thames across from the Parliament building and the iconic Big Ben clock tower in downtown London. It was the tallest at 443 feet when it was tilted into position in the millennial year of 2000.

The 541-foot Singapore Flyer opened in 2008 in Asia. Then in 2014 came the High Roller in Las Vegas, which tops out at 550 feet. Now the largest city in the United States is set to enter the wheel competition and top them all with the 630-foot New York Wheel, which will be situated on New York Harbor on Staten Island to draw tourists to the island’s multiple attractions.

Already without the wheel, more than 2 million tourists ride the free Staten Island Ferry every year. All of the New York Wheel’s enclosed capsules will hold a total of up to 1,440 people per ride, 25,000 visitors daily capacity and an anticipated three and a half million riders annually. At $35 per person for a 38-minute ride, the next wonder of the world will be highly profitable, indeed. New York Wheel

What those tourists will see from the New York Wheel is similar to what its President and CEO Richard Marin sees every morning. “I live on the north shore of Staten Island,” Marin says. “I look at this view every morning and every evening before I go to bed. The views of lower Manhattan are astounding from Staten Island, even though it is five nautical miles away from Manhattan.” 

Promotional videos for the New York Wheel have been made from a helicopter at the altitude of the top of the wheel. Marin insists that to really experience the New York Wheel, people will have to see it to believe it. “I would challenge anyone to take a picture that shows as good a view as looking at it with your own eyes,” he emphasizes. “There’s something the human eye does when it looks at distant objects that magnifies them called axial magnification.”

Why Staten Island

The choice of Staten Island for the $590 million New York Wheel was made for several reasons, one of which was to bring jobs and prosperity to the island. “This venue is a very special place,” Marin declares. “We call it the gateway to America.” Visible from the wheel will be the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan and Ellis Island behind The Verrazano Bridge. New York Harbor is where immigrants landed, soldiers left for Europe in World War II and cruise ships depart for exotic locales.

“At its core, the New York Wheel is an observation attraction, but it is more than that,” Marin maintains. “This is a kinetic observation experience of going up in a capsule as opposed to an elevator in a building, which is fairly static, and that makes it special. There’s a whole experience associated with the 38 minutes that you spend on the wheel itself.” That includes good views of Brooklyn, Coney Island, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge – the longest suspension span in the Americas – and Sandy Hook, N.J. Staten Island is the highest point on the Eastern seaboard. “It’s quite a special spot,” Marin concludes.

The base of the New York Wheel will have a 70,000-square-foot terminal sitting at +14, which is 20 feet below the upland Richmond Terrace. There is already most of a 950-space garage with approximately a dozen bus parking spaces. Inside the terminal will be access to the wheel along with merchandising and food and beverage purveyors. Space for a contemplated secondary attraction, a 4-D simulator attraction, is being included of the first floor.

The terminal – which is aiming for LEED Gold certification – will be topped with more than 7 acres of green roof in the form of a great lawn with an amphitheater, a beer garden on the terrace roof and a large playground at the far western end of the property.

The Concept

The idea of a New York Wheel blossomed under former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, when the city realized the financial success of the London Eye could be duplicated in the Big Apple. “New York City’s tourism visitation levels under the Bloomberg administration got so much emphasis that they drove over 56 million visitors to New York in a year, making it the No. 1 urban tourist destination in the world,” Marin asserts. “When you combine those two thoughts and add in the new waterfront emphasis of New York City, it’s not a big reach to decide that an attraction like the London Eye that plays to New York – specifically New York Harbor – has that kind of potential to be a major iconic attraction.”

Marin has been CEO of New York Wheel LLC since July 2012 when it was formed. Previously, he had been CEO of a company that specialized in distressed real estate. “I wouldn’t characterize myself as primarily a construction person,” he declares. “Primarily, I’m a financial person and general manager. I am learning a great deal about construction as I go.”

New York Wheel LLC did not get bogged down in obtaining approvals for construction. “It took us about 18 months to get the approvals, which is surprisingly very quick in New York,” Marin recalls. “A lot of that quickness was attributable to the Bloomberg administration trying to push the wheel through before it went out of office. The wheel was one of the legacy projects of the Bloomberg administration.”

Raising the financing took approximately 18 months. Approval of the project was received in late October 2013, and the lease for the land signed in December 2013. New York Wheel LLC took possession of the site in October 2014, and site preparation continued until construction began in May 2015.

Massive Foundation

The massive foundation for the New York Wheel – completed in June 2017 – required 96 caissons drilled 100 feet down and socketed at least 30 feet into bedrock. The caissons are 67 inches in diameter with 35-inch-diameter inner sleeves that are socketed with I-beam steel in the middle and cemented. Then a large caisson cap and slab has recently been poured on top with a total of 8,000 cubic yards of concrete.

“There is a lot of concrete and a lot of infrastructure underground,” Marin notes. “The foundation of the wheel is approximately 50 percent more expensive than the foundation for the entire rest of the facility, including the garage and terminal, and has more steel underground than the terminal and garage combined.”

The wheel itself is being designed and manufactured primarily in Europe under the direction of Starneth-Mammoet, which were both involved with building the London Eye and the in-process Dubai Eye. The Dutch company VDL is building the capsules that passengers ride in. Walter Tosto of Italy, Huisman of Holland, Cimtas of Turkey and Liebherr of Germany will fabricate the legs, hub/spindle, tubular steel for the rim and the roller bearings of the wheel.

The components of the wheel will be shipped to a laydown site in Brooklyn after a transatlantic trip by ship. This has already happened with the two massive cranes from Mammoet. “They will be put together and assembled there on the laydown site, barged across the harbor to our site to a temporary jetty that we’ve built and they will literally be rolled off ramps and erected onsite,” Marin explains. “There will be no welding onsite; that will all happen either at the fabrication point or the laydown area.”

Built in Place

Unlike the London Eye, which was raised from a flat to a vertical position, the New York Wheel will be assembled in place from the bottom up without the truss structure rim the London Eye has. “It will look more delicate,” Marin says. “There will be less apparent structure.”

As aforementioned, two Dutch companies - Mammoet and Starneth - have formed a joint venture to erect the New York Wheel. Mammoet – which means “mammoth” in Dutch – was involved with the heavy lift of the London Eye and the recent record lift of the Dubai Eye spindle. The general contractor and construction manager for the terminal, the garage and the rest of the site is Gilbane. The project manager is Broadwall Consulting Services, and the architecture firm is Perkins Eastman/EEK and S9 Architects.

Among the challenges of the project is the uniqueness and scale of the project itself. “We have had our share of challenges, but this is a very big, iconic structure,” Marin concedes. “I’d say the biggest challenge has been the design of the actual structure itself, the approval process, financing that kind of structure and then actually getting down to building something so big that it pushes the limits of physics and metallurgy.”

Another challenge was whether to use the metric system that many of the wheels are built in or the English system of weights and measures. The English system won out. Sourcing the materials also has been challenging. “Where these materials will be sourced from has been quite significant,” Marin says. “Everyone cares about that from a timing and cost standpoint, and quite frankly, from a material-control standpoint. You don’t want important components stuck in some country where you might have issues getting them out. The siren call of cheaper pricing has to be balanced off against the risk factors.”

A unique aspect of the project is that two contractors are involved on the same site. “We have one contractor that’s global in its expertise around the wheel, heavy lifting and erection, and one that is very well-versed in local contracting practice,” Marin points out. “The blend is important. Any time you have two major contractors on one site, you can imagine the logistical coordination that has to take place. It’s not trivial.”

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