The nation’s capital is getting a permanent piece of the Air Capital.
Wichita’s Chance Rides will open its 180-foot tall observation wheel to the public on Friday in National Harbor, a shopping and entertainment complex in Oxon Hill, Md., on the southern edge of the District of Columbia.
The $15 million Capital Wheel, inspired by similar wheels in London and Paris, features 42 gondolas, which can hold up to 332 people. From those gondolas, visitors can see Washington, D.C.-area sights such as the Washington Monument, the Potomac River, historic Alexandria and Arlington National Cemetery.
Workers fabricated components of the wheel at the Chance Rides facility, 4219 W. Irving in Wichita, for months and started assembling the ride on site in February.
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The wheel, which was built on a pier extending out into the Potomac River, is not technically a Ferris wheel because the cars are enclosed. The slow-moving gondolas are designed for comfort, with glass, sound systems and heating and air conditioning. Planners expect the wheel to operate year round and attract up to a million 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. Riders in the VIP car get to sidestep the waiting line for the regular cars.
Preparing the pier and installing the giant ride was a big effort, said Chance Rides President Mike Chance.
“It was a big engineering challenge, a big design challenge and a big installation challenge,” Chance said. “But it’s spectacular, especially at night with all the LED lights. It’s really going to be a big draw.”
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.
Chance said the company has focused on selling the observation wheels only in North America, so far, although it has international markets for its other rides.
Many cities have good places for such wheels, he said. They need to be placed in areas where tourists are plentiful and on foot. It’s an impulse buy, to some extent, he said.
A ride on observation wheels typically costs $12 to $15 per person and is a 12- to 15-minute experience.
“It’s an experience you do with your family,” he said.
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.
Contributing: Associated Press