Biggest wheel set to turn in Singapore

By Ian Timberlake

Agence France-Presse

SINGAPORE ~ Please, don’t call this a Ferris wheel, officials stress.

“We don’t use the F-word,” says Florian Bollen, the chairman of Singapore Flyer, a giant slowly-rotating observation wheel, which he says will be leagues apart from its old-fashioned little brother at the fairground.

At 165 meters, or 42 storeys high, the Singapore Flyer will be the largest observation wheel in the world, said Bollen.

The project, still under construction, is tentatively expected to open in the city-state next March.

Bollen’s Singapore-based company, Great Wheel Corp, is also building wheels in Beijing and Berlin which will edge out the Singapore Flyer as the world’s biggest when they begin turning in about two years, he says.

“It’s a completely different generation of wheels by comparison to the old-style Ferris wheel,” Bollen told reporters on Thursday.

He says Britain’s London Eye, which opened at the turn of the century and is 30 meters lower than Singapore’s wheel, was the first of the new generation.

“It’s a huge success story. It really has created something completely new, and that’s why we thought building these wheels is a good thing,” says the German, who came to his new venture from financing films.

Unlike cramped Ferris wheel carriages that hang in the open air, the Singapore Flyer and other large observation wheels feature fixed “capsules.”

The Singapore Flyer’s capsules – about the size of a city bus – are air conditioned and can carry up to 28 people. Passengers are free to walk around and will not feel movement or vibration, the company says.

“And when you’re up on top of the wheel, you really have the feeling of being on top of the world,” Bollen says.

“It’s just a very slow, nice experience. It’s all about the view.”

The Singapore Flyer will be located on the Singapore waterfront across from the Marina Bay Sands casino complex set to open in 2009, and near the pit area of a Formula One Grand Prix street race to be held for the first time in 2008.

Lacking natural attractions, the wealthy nation has embarked on a major campaign to spruce up its tourist appeal.

For S$29.50 (US$19.37), passengers on the Singapore Flyer will get a 360-degree view of up to 45 kilometers across the island republic and into neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, the developers say.

Higher-priced tickets include food and drinks.

The project, worth about $240 million dollars, is a private venture backed mainly by German investors. But Bollen says it has received strong marketing and other support from the city-state’s tourism board.

He declined to reveal the rent they are paying for the site. Bollen says his company was the only bidder for the project designed by Kisho Kurokawa Architects and Associates of Tokyo, along with Singapore’s DP Architects.

The builders are Mitsubishi Corp and Takenaka Corp of Japan.

Each ride on the flyer will last about 37 minutes and while passengers wait for “takeoff,” they can wander among two lower levels of shops, restaurants and a tropical rainforest.

It is marketing itself as a venue for everything from business meetings to weddings.

The 28 capsules on the wheel will be able to move about 10 million people per year, Bollen adds.

About 40 percent of revenue is expected to come from corporate clients and another 30 percent from travel agents, says Patsy Ong, managing director of Adval Brand Group Pte Ltd, the marketing agents.

Bollen says his firm is in “very active discussions” with civic authorities in New Delhi and Mumbai about possible wheels there too.

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