Jax Council Approves $220 Million Ferris Wheel

April 1, 2015 22 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While you were busy evaluating candidates for office Jax City Council passed legislation that will cost taxpayers over $220 million dollars.

Go ahead. Place on one hand up against the other. Close your eyes. Bow your head. It is time to pray for Jacksonville’s leadership.  

While you were busy choosing candidates for office, the Jacksonville City Council passed legislation that will cost taxpayers over $220 million dollars.
By mid-2017, Jacksonville will be home to the largest “observation” wheel.  Not to be confused with a Ferris wheel because to spend that much money on a Ferris wheel would be a little too county fair. An observation wheel has a different sort of cachet, which justifies the huge expenditure. Science! It will be located on the river, where the old courthouse is located, on East Bay Street. The courthouse will be demolished.

For a frame of reference, Jacksonville’s world’s largest scoreboards will cost Jacksonville around $100 million after interest is paid on the build out.  We can expect to pay close to half a billion dollars on the observation wheel, after paying back the bonds used to fund the project over the course of the next 30 years.

Jacksonville is taking the title of “world’s largest” from Las Vegas, which only recently completed their observation wheel in March 2014 at a cost of $200 million. The Las Vegas wheel stands at 550 feet. The Jacksonville wheel will be over 910 feet in height, nearly double the diameter of the Las Vegas wheel. Orlando just built their observation wheel but it only stands at a negligible 400 feet and cost an appropriate $90 million.

Las Vegas "High Roller"

So, how did this happen?

Coming up with a giant something-or-other to build is always on Jacksonville’s mind. As soon as the courthouse debacle was concluded our leadership has been on the prowl for a new something-or-other to spend money on.

By now, you’ve heard talks of building an aquarium, on the river.

Or, how about a new convention center?

Or, how about funding the shipyards?

Or, how about Healthy Town USA (yes, that is the actual name)?

Or, how about redeveloping the Landing?

Or, how about funding the most expensive project, dredging the port at an expected cost of $1 billion?
The Observation wheel development plan is somewhat unique, when compared to many of the other infrastructure proposals. Jacksonville is developing this “economy boosting” tourist attraction and will own it independent of private companies. Still, SMG is lobbying hard to include the observation wheel in the list of properties they manage for Jacksonville.

It is just as likely that City Council will assign management of the observation wheel to the library system. A significant chunk of the library budget will fund the development of the observation wheel.  In order to justify the re-appropriation of funds each capsule will include books that can be checked out upon exit.

These projects only gain credibility if they promise certain “return on investments.”  The observation wheel is promised to be profitable.

Martin and Associates, the same group that conducted the study on dredging the shipyards was in charge of developing the economic model for the observation wheel. They project that over 60,000 jobs with an average annual salary of $55,000 will be created over the next millennia. They also estimate that the Ferris observation wheel will earn over $25 million annually. The model included a two-tier ticket system with a minimum of 10 VIP capsules. VIP Capsules will command higher price points as each one includes a Jacuzzi, sparkling apple juice and a signed picture of Shad Khan.

Martin and Associates did caveat that their model does not account for the coming space tourism industry, which could have a potentially disastrous impact on ticket sales. Their report recommends, “there may be a possibility to reclassify an observation wheel as a type of space vehicle. It is an engineered moving contraption and the capsules travel fairly high into the atmosphere.”

Tier-one tickets will rotate 360 degrees. Tier-two tickets will only move 180 degrees or halfway. Think, half moon versus full moon. A T2 ticket purchaser will essentially rock back and fourth. A T1 ticket will buy full rotations.

Within the legislation City Council has agreed to organize a “shocked and outraged” task force within six months of the completed project. The task force will work towards becoming shocked and outraged at the continuing and unaccounted maintenance costs related to the observation wheel. They will be required to say something like “how come nobody told us it would cost this much to maintain?”

Mayor Alvin Brown released a statement, “I’ve learned that taking a stand on any particular situation is potentially self-defeating. I’m requesting Jacksonville voters to imagine I said the exact words they need to hear to vote for me in May. “

Mayoral candidate Lenny Curry, when asked his opinion said, “Pete Rummell thinks the observation wheel is good for Jacksonville.”

Article by Arash Kamiar

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