STREETERVILLE — After its first face-lift since it opened in 1995, the Navy Pier Ferris wheel is being reassembled this week and next, with plans to open later this month.
Last month, the Ferris wheel's 40 red fiberglass gondolas were removed, packed up and shipped out to be repaired, repainted and outfitted with new built-in sound systems.
Aside from graffiti scratched into the gondolas' interior and a few cracked windows, damage has been minimal, said Mike Degnan, Navy Pier's vice president of operations.
"After 18 years of normal wear and tear, we decided it was time to refurbish them," he said on the first day of reassembly earlier this week.
Listen to Lizzie Schiffman discuss the changes for Navy Pier's iconic Ferris Wheel on DNAinfo Radio:
During those 18 years, the wheel has carried nearly 15 million passengers — a landmark Degnan said it's expected to hit this year, which Navy Pier officials plan to celebrate.
Reattaching the gondolas to the wheel is a two- to three-week process. Crews must constantly rotate the wheel, hanging each six-seat carriage on an alternating side to keep the 150-foot attraction balanced.
Navy Pier staff apply the same principle when they're loading the gondolas with people, something Degnan said can sometimes confuse riders.
"You've gotta keep the wheel balanced," he said. "It's a common misconception [among] people waiting. You'll wonder why you have eight or 10 cars that pass you by. Well, they pass you by because we've got to keep the wheel balanced with the weight of the guests."
While the gondolas were away, the wheel itself was cleaned and some of its 16,000 lightbulbs were replaced, though Degnan said that's a repair that happens daily. The wheel itself also got a fresh coat of paint, and all its motors and gears were checked.
In all, the rehab will take about three months. Degnan said the team hopes to reopen the Ferris wheel around April 22.
He said this season will be a great time for locals to revisit the Ferris wheel because "It's going to look better than ever, and sound better than ever."
Navy Pier opens its first seasonal attractions Friday for the weeklong Swing into Spring event. The Wave Swinger, Light House Drop-Bounce Ride and 18-hole miniature golf will all open Friday.