Atlantic City may host the country’s largest Ferris wheel, at least for a little while.

The Planning Board has approved a redevelopment plan that would allow Steel Pier Associates to spend more than $12 million to expand the Boardwalk and install a 200-foot observation wheel on a pier over the beach.

If completed by the first quarter of next year as planned — and before the 550-foot High Roller wheel being built in Las Vegas — it would be the tallest in the country, Steel Pier President Anthony Catanoso said.

“There’s no better place for one of these wheels, in our opinion,” he said during a presentation Wednesday morning.

The Planning Board members unanimously agreed.

“At this point I wish it would be 800 feet so we could stay number one,” said Vice Chairman Steven Young.

The plan will now go to City Council, which must approve it as an ordinance, Steel Pier attorney Stephen Hankin said. With that approval, the company would then need state Department of Environmental Protection permits, which company officials do not forsee as a problem.

“This is absolutely wonderful,” council Vice President Steven Moore said during the meeting. “It will add so much to Atlantic City.”

The Texas Star wheel in Dallas currently claims to be the tallest observation wheel in North America, at 212 feet. But Catanoso said that height includes other factors besides the actual diameter of the wheel.

Considering the pier being built to support the wheel, Catanoso said Steel Pier’s wheel technically could be 220 feet off the ground.

Regardless, it will be the tallest observation wheel in New Jersey. The Giant Wheel at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood is 156 feet tall, the Big Wheel at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson is 148 feet tall, and the Giant Wheel at Gillian’s Wonderland in Ocean City is 141 feet tall.

Worldwide, the tallest Ferris wheel is the 540-foot Singapore Flyer, which opened in 2008. The London Eye rises 442 feet. And Dubai has announced plans to complete the 690-foot-tall ‘Dubai Eye’ in 2015.

Catanoso said he hopes the Steel Pier wheel will be one of the most popular in the U.S., attracting between 500,000 and a million people per year. Similar wheels at Niagara Falls in Ontario; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Seattle attract between 550,000 and 950,000 riders per year, he said.

As part of the plan, Steel Pier would build a 315,000-square-foot pier off the Boardwalk south of the existing pier, between it and the new LandShark Bar and Grill at the Margaritaville complex at Resorts Casino Hotel. The city would take ownership of the new pier.

The only objection raised at the board meeting Wednesday was from City Engineer William England, who said the city would rather maintain concrete piling than wooden piling, as the company plans to use.

Catanoso said requiring concrete rather than wood could raise the cost dramatically and potentially kill the plan, which is partly funded through the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Both men said they could discuss it further, and England eventually smiled and said they would do what makes the most sense.

“I’m not going to torpedo your plan,” England said.

The wheel is part of Steel Pier’s long-term effort to make the seaside amusement park a year-round attraction. The 42 gondolas on the wheel will be fully enclosed, as opposed to the traditional, open-air style of such rides, with heating and air conditioning that would allow them to be used year-round.

The rides will last about 20 minutes each and cost between $10 and $15, although Catanoso said there will be pricing packages for large groups and for food and beverage service.

Because the city would own the pier once it’s complete, the government would not derive tax revenue from the property, although Steel Pier would pay the city to rent the land. The officials did not discuss Wednesday what that fee would be or how it would be set.

“We think the benefit to the city is going to be tremendous,” Catanoso said.

Contact Lee Procida:

609-463-6712

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