My wheel is taller than your wheel!

The original Chicago Ferris Wheel, built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

A Ferris Wheel on the Las Vegas Strip you say? Yep, a Ferris Wheel. There are two kinds of wheels of the Ferris kind, the common country fair variety, 60 or so feet tall that have  30 double seats that turn round and round so fair-goes can hold hands, eat popcorn and look out over the midway.  The second variety are tall and are called observation wheels; they provide a grand view of the world for several thousand people.  The one that Caesars (formerly Harrah’s) is ready to begin building on the famous Strip of the second type and is aspiring to be the tallest of them all.

The original Ferris Wheel was built for a world’s Fair – the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.  The officials and promoters of the Chicago fair wanted to best the Paris world’s fair – the Exposition Universelle – held in Paris in 1889.  Paris had wowed the world with the Eiffel tower – a thousand feet tall – a clear demonstration of French genius and superiority; it still wows the world and is the most visited paid monument in the world.  The wheel designed and built by George Ferris was also an engineering marvel, a testament to American ingenuity and  although only 260 or so feet, still very impressive and it was to be Chicago’s answer to Paris.  In the years since, periodically people have built other gigantic wheels to show their engineering talent and bring attention to their nation. Each of those Ferris Wheels were billed as  the tallest in the world; some 23 of the world’s tallest Ferris Wheels have been constructed.   The string of wheels edged up higher and higher into the sky and until the Singapore Flyer. built in 2008, which rises 541 feet above the ground.  In June 2013, 110 years after the Chicago fair and the first Ferris Wheel, Caesars expects to open a 550 foot tall Ferris Wheel – the High Roller.

Another giant Ferris Wheel begs the question, has its time passed, isn’t that so last century?  The post office is on is way to bone yard; land line telephones and telephone books are going to be right behind the home delivery and the mail carrier.  Newspaper lose readers and advertisers every day and the Internet gains more of both; gold watches and lifetime jobs have been replaced with the ten year career and online job applications.  Most changes are driven by technology and the rest by demographic switches; analog is being replaced by digital and baby boomers, retiring to Florida or Arizona with their golf clubs, regular television programs and cameras filled with film are being replaced by millenniums, metro-sexuals and tattooed techies twitting, texting and and surfing around the net, the job market, Craig’s list and any place else that catches their fancy as quickly as their fingers can move.

It is a speed thing, the boomers did not expect to have a constantly changing set of entertain options at their finger tips; they grew up with a television set with just a few channels – switching channels required a person to get up, walk across the room and manually move the dial; one did not change channels often and one did not surf during commercials or watch two or three programs simultaneously.  We were, and still are,  a relatively slow and plodding generation.  The boomers got their thrills at a much slower pace than the generations pushing them out of the way and taking possession of the world.  So who is going to be interested in a very tall Ferris Wheel, an aging boomer, a 21st century techno wiz?  I wonder; even a boomer might get bored on a Ferris Wheel.  The ride is not fast or thrilling, nor was it ever; a ride on the wheel in 1893 took 18 minutes, 9 minutes to load passengers and then the 9-minute ride.  Today the ride is 37-minutes – 37 minutes of a very slow rotation while you gaze out at the world below you.- and I suspect if you are under 40 text your friends and check your email and post a photo on Facebook.  It is time enough for a bachelor party, a wedding, a birthday party or maybe even a quick dinner – the kind of inflight, inspin entertainment has evolved over the years – but a short party is all there is time to do, call it what you want – it is a short party; without the adrenaline rush of a fast roller coaster, an exciting sporting event or anything else.

However, it may work, the wheel is coming with some other stuff and is part of a $500 million investment by Caesars. The company says Las Vegas does not need more casinos or more hotel rooms, or more expensive “upscale” stores or anything else.  According to Caesars what the Strip needs is some on the Strip fun, simple fun, inexpensive fun.  The wheel will be visible the entire length of the Strip and might very well become a magnet, a beacon and a symbol of outdoor life on the Strip – something the Strip does not have.  Six months ago, I thought the idea was lame, out of sequence with today’s technology and the speed of life in the 21 century – it is after all a 18th century idea.  But today, I wonder if it will not serve another purpose – that of breathing life back into the Las Vegas economy and help point to a new direction – one that does not include another $10 billion hotel.

As this story is developing, MGM is seeking to implode an unfinished, unoccupied and unsafe hotel-condominium tower that was the definitive project in the last wave billion dollar mega resort projects.  Might the two, an imploded billion dollar hotel tower and the latest and tallest Ferris Wheel in all the world become the bookends of the pre and post recession eras?


4 Responses to “My wheel is taller than your wheel!”

  1. 1 lynne rosner August 17, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Well it will be UNSAFE to have people riding on a ferris wheel for 37 minutes in 100 degree heat, and a 550 foot high one no less. Who thinks up entertainment venues like this, am I living in the Iron Age of America?

  2. 2 Jabittan August 18, 2011 at 6:01 am

    I’d have to imagine that they have come up with a solution to that problem. It will probably be a very cozy ferris wheel. They will want you to be relaxed and comfortable while your are riding around, probably equipped with plush chairs, air conditioning, and if you are 21 or older, some entertainment for when the view gets old, slot machines.

  3. 3 Ken Adams August 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Las Vegas solved that problem 70 years ago, without the ability the condition the air and make people comfortable in the heat, Vegas would be as empty as the Empty Quarter – a desert part of Saudi Arabia, the least inhabited and with the least vegetation of any place on the planet (or close). Yesterday the temperature in Vegas hit 108 degrees – but still there were somewhere in the area of 200,000 visitors in town, eager for whatever excitement the town has to offer. And at 550 feet it will be the biggest and greatest sign on the Strip, magnet to all of those souls seeks some rush.

  4. 4 Ken Adams August 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Interesting – thanks

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