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Chicago's Navy Pier may get a bigger, better Ferris wheel

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Officials at Navy Pier want a bigger, better and warmer Ferris wheel. And they want someone other than taxpayers to fund it.


On Monday, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, McPier, will ask developers to send in proposals for a huge new year-round Ferris wheel.


On Monday, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, McPier, will ask developers to send in proposals for a huge new year-round Ferris wheel.


The final product could be at least twice as tall as the existing 150-foot Navy Pier Ferris wheel that debuted in 1995 and has attracted more than 10 million riders.


The new wheel could be built by 2010 and possibly replace the existing one, which cost $3.2 million to build. But no decision on where to place the new attraction has been made, said McPier board chairman Ted Tetzlaff.


“We’re always trying to improve the experience people have down there,” Tetzlaff said.


The current ride was modeled after the world’s first Ferris wheel, a 264-foot-high marvel built for the 1893 World’s Fair. The new wheel “must be worthy to inherit the traditions of the original Ferris wheel built by George Washington Ferris,” according to McPier’s bid document.


No cost estimates have been released. McPier is looking for a developer to pay for construction without tax dollars and then share in the revenue it produces, Tetzlaff said.


McPier wants the proposals to include heated and air-conditioned gondolas that can hold 25 to 30 people. The existing wheel has 40 caged, open-air gondolas that hold six people. Officials said the new wheel could hold 1,000 or more people at a time.


But, Tetzlaff said, “the emphasis is on unique, innovative, creative and different — a new chapter in the life of the Ferris wheel with less emphasis on size.”


Proposals are due back by the end of the year, or early next. Tetzlaff said McPier will take into consideration any concerns of its Lake Point Tower neighbors.


Lake Point Tower condo association president Pat Spear said the association expects to be consulted as the proposal proceeds, but that building residents will likely be divided, with majority opinin depending “on where it’s placed.”


“Some people will like the idea, because they like the tradition. After all, the ferris wheel was invented here,” Spear said. “And some people will hate it, because they don't want to look at it outside their window, and if it attracts as many people as the pier hopes, won't necessarily want that many people coming to the building.”


But resident Bud Islinger, a former officer with the condo association, said the lights on the current wheel are a nuisance and he’s “absolutely” against a larger one.


The original lights “have been toned down,” said Islinger, whose condo faces the pier. “If the new one is like it was [initially], Heaven help us.”


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