When riders climb aboard the Steel Pier’s newest attraction next year, they’ll find themselves 200 feet above the Boardwalk inside a ride constructed in Italy and shipped in pieces to Atlantic City.

Anthony Catanoso, the Steel Pier’s president, traveled to Venice this week to close a deal with Italian ride manufacturer Technical Park, which will construct the 42-gondola observation wheel overseas before breaking it down into sections for its trip to the United States.

While Technical Park is building the ride abroad, construction on a 31,500-square-foot expansion of the Steel Pier that will support the ride will begin after Labor Day.

“This is our biggest project to date, and it’s an important piece for Atlantic City,” Catanoso said in a phone interview from Italy. “We wanted to make sure it was done right and we were choosing the right people.”

Catanoso is confident that the right people are at Technical Park, in part because the Atlantic City amusement pier has worked with the Italian group before. The Ferris wheel currently on the Steel Pier was also constructed by Technical Park in a similar fashion about 10 years ago.

At that time, however, the stakes were much lower. The current Ferris wheel measures about 66 feet tall — a $315,000 project by 2003 standards. This time around, Catanoso is planning for a wheel 200 feet tall that will be the largest in the country, at least until a 500-foot-tall Las Vegas wheel is constructed.

The price tag for what Catanoso says is the pier’s most elaborate ride to date is expected to approach $13 million between the pier expansion and the wheel itself. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has agreed to provide a $4 million loan for the project.

With the ride perched atop a new deck to be constructed along the Boardwalk to the south of the existing pier, the observation wheel will rise 220 feet in the air when it opens sometime in the first quarter of 2014.

“We wanted the timing on this to get off the ground quickly, and I wanted to look myself at what kind of gondolas we could have and what kind of structure could be built,” Catanoso said.

Technical Park, one of a number of European companies known as leaders in the amusement ride industry, will begin shipping sections of the ride some time after the beginning of 2014. Then, crews in Atlantic City will reassemble the ride.

Last year, plans for $100 million in renovations to the century-old pier were announced. At that time, Catanoso said the owners planned on a ride that would have a handful of VIP cabins mixed among standard cars. However, the plan has morphed to construct almost all of the cabins in a VIP style.

That means that nearly all of the cabins will have cushioned seats, heat, air conditioning, wi-fi access and music while riders take the 15- to 20-minute ride.

Catanoso is also hoping the ride will prove lucrative for the pier. Conservative estimates shown to CRDA earlier this year suggest the wheel will draw 500,000 riders a year based on ridership of similar attractions.

The wheel is part of a plan to make the amusement pier a year-round attraction.

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:

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