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New 196-Foot Ferris Wheel Coming To Navy Pier For Centennial

By Jim Bochnowski in News on Jun 23, 2015 5:30PM

An iconic feature of the Chicago lakeshore will be disappearing this fall, as Navy Pier replaces their existing Ferris wheel with an even larger one to mark the pier's centennial anniversary.

In anticipation of Navy Pier's 100th birthday, pier officials and Mayor Emanuel announced that this September, a new, 196-foot Ferris wheel will be installed. In a press release, Chairman of the Navy Pier Inc. Board of Directors William J. Brodsky said:

"As we reimagine Navy Pier, we couldn’t think of a more exciting and appropriate way to celebrate the upcoming 2016 Centennial Celebration than acquiring a brand new world-class Ferris wheel. The new wheel is yet another example of our continuing commitment to ensure that Navy Pier remains the region’s number-one leisure destination and a place of pride for the city and its residents."

The new wheel, privately-financed by a loan from Fifth Third Bank at $115 million, will stand almost 50 feet taller than the current one. The Ferris wheel will feature 42 gondolas that will be able to seat ten passengers (the current one can only fit six) and will include padded seats, TV screens and a HVAC system that will prevent fogged windows. The wheel's spokes will also have lights that can be programmed to different colors for special occasions. No public money was used towards the purchase of the Ferris wheel.

The now-iconic Ferris wheel was added to Navy Pier as part of the dramatic renovation that reenergized the area into a tourist hub. The pier, originally constructed in 1916, was part of Daniel Burnham's "Master Plan of Chicago" and was designed to marry the shipping trade with the entertainment industry. While the site saw plenty of use in the early 20th century, becoming the home to attractions such as "The Human Torch" and a woman who rode a motorcycle over a wire, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Great Depression and World War II later squashed interest in the area.

Navy Pier struggled to find its footing in the later half of the century, at times becoming the home to a navy training facility, an extension of the University of Illinois and host to various conventions. But in 1989, the city put aside $150 million to rebuild the pier, which opened in its current form in 1995. The Ferris wheel was installed as the center attraction of the pier and was meant to recreate the original Ferris wheel, which made its debut at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. It has stood there ever since.

The announcement comes on the heels of a City Council vote to allow open containers of alcohol at the pier. That means there could be no better (or worse) time to drag yourself down to lakefront than this September.