The World’s Largest Ferris Wheel That Wasn’t

Photo: S9 Architecture/Perkins Eastman

It was going to be Staten Island’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. An observation wheel at 630 feet, the tallest in the world, was going to be constructed on the borough’s waterfront, capturing millions of ferry tourists’ dollars with its stunning skyline view. With the blessing of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a team of developers planned to make it happen, but ballooning construction costs, lawsuits, and a lack of support from a new mayor proved too much. In October 2018, the project was killed, with only an unsightly concrete parking garage and a barren plot of land hosting the wheel’s pedestals to show for it. But wheel watchers may be in luck: Recently, talks have been renewed by New York City Economic Development Corporation, rekindling hope for its completion in some form.

2006: Mayor Bloomberg delivers his State of the City address at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island. It’s a sign of waterfront development to come.

2008: Meir Laufer, a New York real-estate developer, reads about the 443-foot London Eye. He travels to England and meets the architect of the project. “I knew that one day New York City would have such a wheel,” Laufer later says. “I was utterly convinced that this was going to happen.”

2010: Laufer and his partner Eric Kaufman enlist Rich “Big Rich” Marin, the former CEO of real-estate holding company Africa Israel USA and an investment banker at Bear Stearns, to join as CEO. Marin would later say he didn’t think he’d ever ridden the Staten Island Ferry before taking on the project.

2011: In March, Marin pitches the wheel to the Bloomberg administration.

2012: The mayor officially announces plans for the wheel in September, touting an annual ridership of 4.5 million people and an opening date of New Year’s Eve 2015. It will stand next to a 470,000-square-foot retail complex and hotel, together creating over 1,200 construction jobs and 1,100 permanent jobs. “The New York Wheel will be an attraction unlike any other in New York City — even unlike any other on the planet,” says Bloomberg.

2013: The City Council approves the wheel, along with the Empire Outlets, with plans to break ground in early 2014. “I’m wheely, wheely, wheely happy,” says Councilwoman Debi Rose. The New York Wheel website lists May 2016 as the opening date.

2014: The launch is pushed back to fall 2016, but the team appears undeterred. In September, Marin gives a TEDx Talk called “Reinventing New York Harbor,” flaunting renderings of the wheel alongside a soundtrack of dubstep and funk. By October, the expected opening has been moved to 2017.

2015: Ground is finally broken in May. A legal brawl has developed behind the scenes, however, with investors suing each other over capital contributions and alleged mismanagement.

2016: The opening date is pushed back again, to April 2018. In October, the $9 million legs arrive from Italy. The first aboveground pieces — four pedestals, each around 100 tons, imported from Montreal — are installed in December.

2017: In late May, a payment dispute arises between New York Wheel LLC and contractor Mammoet-Starneth, which walks off the project. More court battles follow.

2018: On October 23, a dream born 400 feet above the River Thames dies. Costs have soared to approximately $1 billion, four times the initial estimate in 2012.

2019: The wheel’s parts are auctioned off in a Delaware law office. Among the winning bids is $82,500 by Reserve Management Group, a family-owned company that turns metal into scrap.

But now: The city’s Economic Development Corporation has been holding meetings since at least May to gauge interest in reviving the project with a new developer at a smaller size. “We’re negotiating, and that’s about as much as I’m at liberty to tell you,” Rose says.

*This article appears in the September 2, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

The World’s Largest Ferris Wheel That Wasn’t