A plan for a giant observation wheel at Venice Beach just might have to wait another turn.
United Kingdom-based Great City Attractions has proposed to erect a nearly 175-foot-high Ferris wheel near Windward Avenue west of the Venice Boardwalk, offering 360-degree picturesque views of the coastal area.
The company, described as the world’s premier owner and operator of so-called giant observation wheels, has installed 30 of the amusement rides in Europe, Asia and Australia and is seeking to bring its first one in the U.S. to Venice. The wheel would contain 42 enclosed, air-conditioned capsules seating up to six people each, and is proposed to operate 12 hours per day, seven days per week for a three-year term.
But after residents have voiced concerns about the ride’s impact on community traffic and parking as well as a change to the boardwalk atmosphere, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl has asked the city Department of Recreation and Parks to put the wheel plan on hold for consideration of another type of amusement: a zipline.
“(The Ferris wheel) is too massive of a project to move forward with today. The homework is not done yet for this project,” said Rosendahl, who added that he does not yet have an opinion on the wheel but wants the department to explore the zipline as a revenue source that could happen sooner on the boardwalk.
The Venice Neighborhood Council addressed the wheel ride at its meeting April 17, when Nigel Ward, head of global site development for Great City Attractions, provided specifics about the project and attempted to allay some concerns. Ward said the company currently has five wheels, which are free standing and transportable, in operation and some of the structures have been placed in historic locations without major impact on the site.
“We consider ourselves to be very experienced in dealing with highly sensitive and historic locations,” Ward said.
Since the project was first presented to the community in March, the proposed orientation of the large wheel has changed so that the seating capsules face east-west on rotation rather than north-south.
By having an observation wheel erected on its property, the host city would not be required to cover any direct costs for the attraction, Ward said. The project is expected to create about 30 to 50 staffing jobs and the company would provide its own uniformed security, he added.
In seeking out possible locations, the company looks for places where there is existing foot traffic, and they don’t believe that additional visitors would come to Venice strictly to hop on the Ferris wheel, Ward said.
“Because our wheels are predominantly an impulse buy we don’t believe they create additional visitors in towns,” he told the audience.
With the ride lasting about 15 minutes, the wheel would have between 50 and 200 riders per hour, he estimated. Responding to parking concerns, Ward said none of the previous wheels have had any parking requirements and they have had little or no impact on parking in other cities.
Some scoffed at the notion that parking would not be affected by the beach where it is already heavily limited.
“We don’t have any parking,” former land use and planning committee chair Challis Macpherson stated. “There’s going to be a parking impact – period.”
In a letter to recreation department officials last month, an attorney for the Venice Stakeholders Association called for a full environmental impact report, saying that even with mitigation, the project would cause impacts on parking, traffic and scenic resources.
Aside from traffic and parking, some longtime residents argue that most of all, the towering wheel addition would be out of place with the Venice community and change the nature of the boardwalk, despite its temporary stay.
“The proposal to erect this gigantic wheel that is not compatible with the scale and character of the neighborhood in the heart of Venice would ironically tear the heart out of Venice and turn it into something it’s not,” said Mark Sokol of the Hotel Erwin. “The proposal would be an ugly blight on the Windward open space area.”
Clabe Hartley, owner of the Cow’s End caf/, said he did not come to Venice to live in Disneyland, and while the observation wheel appears to be a beautiful project, it does not fit in with Venice.
“I can’t believe that this would not bring in an influx of people, because it’s fun to ride. We can’t handle it,” Hartley said.
Some say that although the attraction could be a joy to take for a spin and see panoramic views, the structure would be better suited in a coastal area like San Pedro. Others say people should not be quick to criticize the possible addition.
“I loved this idea right off the bat,” said resident Todd von Hoffman, who helped with the restoration effort of the Venice sign on Windward. “I think (community founder) Abbot Kinney would smile upon an effort like this.”
Recreation department officials have argued that the wheel amusement could create some much needed revenue for the city. Kevin Regan, assistant general manager of the recreation department, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the plan.
Rosendahl said that because the wheel proposal needs more vetting that could take months, he would like for the city to take a look at the zipline option, which could also generate increased funding to clean the bathrooms and empty garbage cans on the boardwalk. The zipline would also provide a thrill for visitors, allowing them to “ride like a bird” between two towers near the boardwalk, the councilman said.
“My hunch is that this is something that could happen for this summer that would not only be a delight for tourists and residents but could also be a revenue stream,” Rosendahl said.
“It seems simple enough to install and my instinct suggests that it would be less controversial.”
Rosendahl said the zipline applicant is expected to give a presentation before a City Council committee next month as well as the neighborhood council at its next meeting.