Chance Rides of Wichita building 175-foot-tall observation wheel for resort outside D.C.

01/16/2014 5:51 PM

01/16/2014 5:52 PM

Wichita’s Chance Rides is on a roll, with wheels.

It is building its fourth giant observation wheel in four years, this one in Oxon Hill, Md., on the southern edge of the District of Columbia.

The $15 million, 175-foot-tall Capital Wheel will sit at the end of a pier on the Potomac River, giving riders views of the U.S. Capitol, the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery.

Workers in Wichita have been fabricating components for months and will start delivering the first pieces in February. Crews will assemble the ride on site. It will start operating in May.

The wheel is part of National Harbor, a giant resort development that includes a Gaylord conference center, hotels, condominiums, the relocated National Children’s Museum, outlet stores, an ice rink and a Chance Rides carousel, according to the developer, the Peterson Cos.

MGM Resorts International won rights to build a $925 million casino resort there overlooking the river.

The wheel is not technically a Ferris wheel, but an observation wheel, said Angus Jenkins, director of Theme Park Sales for Chance Rides, because it carries people in 42 enclosed cars rather than open seats. And those cars are pretty nice, with glass, sound systems, heating and air conditioning. Planners expect the wheel to operate year round and attract 600,000 to 800,000 visitors a year.

The wheel also includes a VIP car that has a glass floor, leather seating, wine chillers, ambient lighting and a monitor with a DVD player. Just as important, Jenkins said, riders in the VIP car get to sidestep the waiting line for the regular cars.

Chance has built five such wheels. The first was installed in 2005, in Niagara Falls. It installed its second in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 2011, the third in Seattle in 2012, and last year it completed one in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The rides are part of a trend toward family-oriented attractions, particularly in resorts, which are trying to find ways to hold visitors as long as possible, Jenkins said.

“In the ’90s and 2000s, there was a race to build the biggest, tallest, fastest roller coaster,” Jenkins said. “That’s over.”

A ride on the Chance Rides’ observation wheels typically costs $12 to $15 per person and is a 12- to 15-minute experience.

Chance’s wheels are modeled on the London Eye, originally called the Millennium Wheel, which opened in London in 2000. The 440-foot-tall observation wheel is one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions, averaging 3.5 million visitors a year.

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