Lord Neil Benjamin
Lord Neil B Gibson asks if Fate of giant Las Vegas Ferris wheel still up in the air?
The game of chicken to build a giant Ferris wheel on the Strip drew a little tighter Monday with a public sales pitch by the developer of one project. While not breaking ground or even clearing a defunct 1950s' motel from his site, Skyvue developer Howard Bulloch unveiled a 23,000-pound bearing needed to make his big wheel go 'round. He timed the ceremony to coincide with the annual REcon convention staged by the International Council of Shopping Centers, hoping to create a sense of momentum that might persuade potential tenants at the show to sign leases. Skyvue, across the Strip from Mandalay Bay, would have a 500-foot London Eye-style wheel as its centerpiece, with 200,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space at its base and 107,000 square feet of light-emitting diode signs in the middle of the wheel or along the building's side. Bulloch said he has yet to line up financing for the project, which he said would cost $175 million, but vowed to open by the end of 2012. Skyvue would cover about 11 acres of a 38.7-acre parcel Bulloch and his partners purchased a decade ago. Quick money for construction could be critical because Caesars Entertainment Corp. has mapped out a similar development, Project Linq, adjacent to the Flamingo and the Imperial Palace. Caesars says it has inked $450 million in loans for its wheel and to finish the Octavius Tower at Caesars Palace. The company has not published many final details about Project Linq, beyond covering about 500,000 square feet with a wheel about 500 feet tall. Dennis Speigel, president of the consulting firm International Theme Park Services, has said he doubts the Strip could support two giant wheels. "The first one out will be the last one in," Speigel said. Big wheel projects have been floated for Las Vegas in the past but none materialized. Now, Bulloch has various government approvals, but not the money, while Caesars has money without final approval from the county. The popularity of the 443-foot tall London Eye, which has attracted more than 3 million riders a year since 2000, has attracted a slew of imitators from Singapore to New Jersey to Myrtle Beach, S.C. The latest generation of Ferris wheels come with enclosed gondolas -- 22 passengers each for Skyvue -- instead of open-air baskets. "A giant wheel has become the icon du jour," Speigel said. "The London Eye has been a tremendous success," said Bulloch, who will model ticket prices on London's. The basic ride would cost $20 to $25. The Monday ceremony also highlighted that big wheels are not financially foolproof. The bearing Bulloch displayed is a leftover from a Beijing wheel that was never built. According to a spokesman, Bulloch paid about $840,000 for the unused, secondhand bearing. Bulloch said he has received letters of intent from potential tenants for 15 percent of the retail space. A letter of intent indicates a formal interest, but not a rental contract. At least some of the early skirmishing between Skyvue and Caesars has revolved around location. By placing his wheel right on the Strip, at a slight angle to the street, riders will get a better view, Bulloch said. "That is the real appeal, not being off the Strip," Bulloch said. But Caesars senior vice president Jan Jones depicted Skyvue as relatively isolated. "If I was going to argue location, I would rather have the center of the Strip than being on the end of the south end," she said.