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Building a Ferris Wheel: Crews Begin Navy Pier's New 1 Million-Pound Star

By Joe Ward | January 19, 2016 5:44pm

NAVY PIER — There were no visitors, but Navy Pier was buzzing Tuesday as an international crew of workers began constructing the pier's massive new Ferris wheel.

The city's top tourist destination closed Tuesday and will remain so on Wednesday while workers installed the foundation for the 200-foot Ferris wheel that is one of the first step's in Navy Pier's planned redevelopment.

It took crews much of their work day Tuesday to install three of the structure's six legs, which each weigh more than 36,000 pounds and are 120 feet long.

Once two of the legs were in place, crews placed three flags — American, German and Dutch — atop the incomplete frame. That's because specialists were needed to erect the massive structure, said Brian Murphy, Navy Pier's chief operating officer.

Three huge cranes were needed to hoist the Ferris wheel's legs into place. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

The gondolas will also include interactive video screens and, at 992,080 pounds, the new wheel will weigh nearly double that of the previous wheel. Vlodrop, Netherlands-based Dutch Wheels is the designer and manufacturer of the new wheel. 

Many of the wheel's pieces were built in Europe and shipped to the United States before arriving on rail to Chicago.

"Those represent the crews we have working on it," Murphy said of the crew. "That's all they do — travel the world putting up Ferris wheels."


The support structure for the wheel will likely be completed by Wednesday, Murphy said. But work will continue through the winter and likely spring, when crews will install the gondolas as well as 7,000 LED lights that will illuminate the wheel at night.

"We'll have millions of color options to do amazing stuff with," Murphy said.

Crews work to remove the beam connecting the Ferris Wheel's leg to the crane. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

Officials hope the new wheel will be ready in time for the pier's 100th anniversary this summer.

The new wheel will rise 50 feet higher than the pier's earlier Ferris wheel, fit 180 more passengers per ride, and include climate-controlled gondolas.

Workers walk between the massive cranes brought in to erect the new Ferris wheel. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

Murphy said the new Ferris wheel is being built to accommodate the pier's bigger crowds as well as make the site a more attractive destination.

"It will be a little bit bigger and better and be just as big a part of Chicago," he said.

Officials are hoping the new Ferris wheel will be the centerpiece of a completely re-imagined Navy Pier, which could include a hotel, grand fountain and new dining and entertainment options.

The old Ferris wheel was taken down in September.

A third leg is being set into place. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

A third leg is being set into place. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

A rendering of the completed Ferris Wheel, which will be open by summer [Navy Pier Inc.]

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