With its spectacular views of the harbour and downtown Vancouver skyline, the Lonsdale waterfront will gain a ferris wheel in a bid to activate the area and attract visitors.
North Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the plan earlier this week, but there’s a catch – it will be a temporary seasonal attraction, and it is not expected to be operational until the summer of 2018.
The municipal government considered bringing in a ferris wheel as additional programming for major events and festivals held in the area this summer, but it determined that availability would be an issue as rental companies usually require a one-year notice.
Current construction activity in Lower Lonsdale was also deemed an issue, and would make the required road closures for the installation challenging.
According to a staff report, the ferris wheel would be 42 feet high and located on the roadway at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue, right next to the Shipyards and near the SeaBus terminal. An ideal placement on the Burrard Dry Dock Pier was examined, however, staff confirmed it was not possible due to the pier structure’s weight limits.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t proceed this summer, but recognizing that there is a significant amount of activity or programming that is already planned this summer, if we want to do this we want to do it right,” said Councillor Linda Buchanan.
It is estimated that a month-long rental of a ferris wheel will cost $40,000 in the low season and $50,000 in the high season, but this does not include power supply, marketing, and site logistics such as bus rerouting and traffic management. On the other hand, a two-day rental to coincide with another event would cost $7,500.
The report adds that the attraction would likely operate at a financial loss and require subsidies from the City and sponsors. As well, it would need to be part of a larger event or festival given that a standalone ride of its relatively small size, compared to major permanent observation ferris wheels in other cities around the world, would not generate sufficient interest or ridership.
Juliana Buitenhuis, a community coordinator with the City, told Council that revenues from ride fares could produce between $2,000 and $3,000 per day during fair weather conditions.
As an alternative attraction option, a merry-go-around was considered but staff concluded it would not have the same cost recovery opportunities.
In 2014, Council considered incorporating a large permanent observation ferris wheel into its Lot 5 waterfront redevelopment, which included a new 60,000-square-foot retail building, purpose-built event spaces, outdoor covered ice rink, and public spaces.
But the idea of installing a permanent attraction onto the pier was put on hold due to the pegged cost of $20 million.
It would have been comparable in size to the 175-foot-tall Seattle Great Wheel, which opened in 2012 at a cost of $20 million. The attraction on the downtown Seattle waterfront has 42 climate-controlled gondolas, and it takes 12 minutes to make a complete revolution.
If there is significant interest with the smaller, temporary attraction next summer, a case could be proven for a permanent attraction. If there is a perfect spot for a ferris wheel in Metro Vancouver, it would be the Lonsdale waterfront with its unobstructed views of the harbour’s scenery and the downtown Vancouver skyline.
Last December, the ferris wheel at the month-long Holiday Heights event atop Queen Elizabeth Park was a popular hit even with the poor weather conditions.