The Big Apple is getting another "biggest": the world's tallest Ferris wheel, part of an ambitious plan to draw New Yorkers and tourists alike to the city's so-called "forgotten borough."
The 625-foot-tall, $230 million New York Wheel is to grace a spot in Staten Island overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the downtown Manhattan skyline, offering a singular view as it sweeps higher than other big wheels like the Singapore Flyer, the London Eye and a "High Roller" planned for Las Vegas.
Designed to carry 1,440 passengers at a time, it's expected to draw 4.5 million people a year to a setting that also would include a 100-shop outlet mall and a 200-room hotel.
It will be "an attraction unlike any other in New York City — in fact, it will be, we think, unlike any other on the planet," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said as he unveiled the plans against the backdrop of New York Harbor. While the privately financed project faces various reviews, officials hope to have the wheel turning by the end of 2015.
The wheel would put Staten Island on the map of superlatives in a place where "biggest" is almost an expectation — home to the nation's biggest city population, busiest mass-transit system, even the biggest Applebee's restaurant.
The attraction stands to change the profile of the least populous and most remote of the city's five boroughs, a sometime municipal underdog that has taken insults from New Jersey and was once known for having the world's largest ... landfill.
"It's going to be a real icon. The Ferris wheel will be Staten Island's Eiffel Tower," Sen. Charles Schumer enthused.
As a visible addition to the skyline around the harbor, the wheel "gives Staten Island an identity beyond its role as a suburban community," while letting it tap into the stream of tourist money in a city that drew 50.9 million visitors last year, said Mitchell Moss, a New York University urban policy professor.
The project is expected to bring $500 million in private investment and 1,100 permanent jobs to the borough's St. George waterfront, and the developers will pay the city $2.5 million a year in rent for the land.
Staten Island isn't entirely off the tourist map. Its free ferry is the city's third-largest tourist attraction, carrying an estimated 2 million visitors a year alongside millions of residents, officials say.
But the city has long struggled to entice tourists off the boat and into Staten Island. Much-touted Staten Island sightseeing bus tours fizzled within a year in 2009 for lack of ridership.
Australian tourists Leah Field and Adam Lica, for example, were riding the ferry Thursday for its views of the Statue of Liberty. They thought they might have lunch on the Staten Island side but weren't planning to explore further.
"We weren't sure what there is to do there," explained Lica, 32, of Melbourne. But were there a giant Ferris wheel, the couple likely would go ride it, he said.
But Henriette Repmann, a German university student, said she wouldn't bother.
"You don't have to have the biggest Ferris wheel in the world to get a good view of New York," Repmann, 20, of Leipzig, said Thursday as she visited the Empire State Building.
Largely a bedroom community for other parts of the city, Staten Island boasts about 470,000 residents and a minor league ballpark, cultural sites and quirky attractions, from locations in the video for Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" to the Staten Island Zoo, home to New York's answer to Pennsylvania's prognosticating groundhog. The Staten Island rodent bears the dubious distinction of having once bitten Bloomberg.
But Staten Island, the only one of the city's five boroughs not accessible by subway, tends to get overshadowed by its bigger neighbors, so much so that some have at times suggested it secede from the city.
And residents often bristle at an image shaped by such television shows as "Mob Wives" and "Big Ang" — and by a former New Jersey beach town mayor who portrayed Staten Islanders in a blog post as heavy on hairspray and light on class. (The ex-mayor, Ken Pringle of Belmar, visited Staten Island in 2008 to make amends.)
Resident Miatta Bryant thinks the wheel might bring the borough more respect.
"People always say Staten Island is so boring," the 26-year-old certified nursing assistant said.
The Ferris wheel, state Assemblyman Matthew Titone hopes, will show the world a different Staten Island than the one they see on TV.
"They will see our cultural institutions and will see that we are not idiots," he said. "Shirtless, musclebound idiots."
FERRIS WHEEL FACTS:
— The first Ferris wheel, 264 feet high (80.4 meters), was invented in the U.S. by Pittsburgh engineer George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. Powered by steam engines, it was introduced at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.
— The proposed New York Wheel on Staten Island is planned to be 625 feet and expected to open by the end of 2015.
— Caesars Entertainment Corp. plans to build a Ferris-style wheel on the Las Vegas Strip. It is planned to stand 550 feet tall and open in late 2013.
— China began construction in 2007 on what was planned to be the world's tallest Ferris wheel, at 680 feet. Officially called the Observation Wheel, it's also referred to as the Beijing Great Wheel or the Great Beijing Wheel. Meant to be open for the 2008 Olympic games, it's still not completed because of design and financing problems.
WORLD'S 10 TALLEST FIXED FERRIS WHEELS:
— Singapore Flyer, 541 feet (165 meters) completed in 2008, in downtown Singapore, was said to cost $240 million. The original spinning direction was reversed on the advice of a group of feng shui masters, ostensibly to revolve wealth back into the financial district.
— Star of Nanchang, 525 feet (160 meters), completed in 2006, in Nanchang, China. Said to cost $7.1 million, it's decorated with 21,300 feet (6,500 meters) of fluorescent lights.
— London Eye, 443 feet (135 meters), inaugurated on Millennium Eve — Dec. 31, 1999 — in London. Because of a safety glitch, the first public ride took place a month later, on Feb. 1, 2000.
— Suzhou Ferris Wheel, 394 feet (120 meters), completed in 2009 in Suzhou, China, was the fourth 120-meter-tall Ferris wheel built in the country.
— Southern Star, 394 feet (120 meters), completed in 2008 in Melbourne, Australia, at a cost of $100 million, was closed after 40 days when cracks appeared, but it remains standing.
— Tianjin Eye, 394 feet (120 meters), completed in 2008. It was built over Yongle Bridge, with cars passing on either side, in Tianjin, China's fifth-largest city.
— Changsha Ferris Wheel, 394 feet (120 meters), completed in 2004 in Changsha, China.
— Zhengzhou Ferris Wheel, 394 feet (120 meters), was the tallest in China when completed in 2003 in Century Amusement Park, in Zhengzhou.
— Sky Dream Fukuoka, 394 feet (120 meters), completed in 2002 in Fukuoka, Japan. The slow pace of 20 minutes per revolution was used as a selling point, providing "maximum kissing time." It closed because of high maintenance costs in September 2009.
— Diamond and Flower Ferris Wheel, 369 feet (117 meters), completed in 2001 in Tokyo, named for the patterns in its nighttime lighting.