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Ferris wheel proposal for Surrey’s waterfront raises eyebrows in B.C.

A view of London from the London Eye. The city recently set a new real estate record with the sale of an unfurnished penthouse for $237-million.

Emilio Morenatti/AP

Linda Hepner, acting Surrey mayor and a candidate to secure the job full time this November, has come to regret she ever "flippantly" proposed building a Ferris wheel on the waterfront in her booming city.

The city councillor's words are being closely watched these days. The Surrey First party that dominates council picked Ms. Hepner as their choice to try and succeed Dianne Watts, the party founder and city mayor for the past nine years. Ms. Watts, one of B.C.'s most prominent politicians, ruled out a bid for a fourth term this fall.

Ms. Hepner describes the Ferris-wheel proposal as a misstep. "It was a flippant comment relative to my desire to animate the waterfront, the entryway coming into Surrey," she said in an interview. "It is a lesson learned: Don't be flippant."

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In June, she told a local reporter the day before entering the mayoral race that the area along the Fraser River on the north end of the city needed to be livened up with something fun, such as a Ferris wheel.

The problem is there are no studies or other research for such a project on the city-owned land.

"I have no concept of what it might ultimately look like," said Ms. Hepner, who has been on the London Eye Ferris wheel in the British capital. The Eye is an iconic attraction on the south bank of the Thames that has inspired many similar attractions around the world since it began taking passengers in 2000.

Ms. Hepner's retreat comes as many cities around the world have embraced destination Ferris wheels – many two or three times larger than those in carnivals and midways – as a lure for tourists and their vacation dollars. U.S. consultant Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, says we are in an era of the destination Ferris wheel. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, he said 75 spin around the world, with at least 40 in the United States.

Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, seeking to regain office after being voted out nine years ago, and Councillor Barinder Rasode, expected to run for the job, have both criticized Ms. Hepner's idea as a frivolous measure. They say Surrey residents are far more concerned about issues such as managing crime. A recent poll found 72 per cent of respondents were opposed to the idea.

But while Ms. Hepner is backing off, North Vancouver is considering a Ferris wheel as part of a proposed redevelopment of the area east of Lonsdale Quay.

North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, who sampled the Seattle Great Wheel and Niagara Sky Wheel for research, said the idea would be to build a Ferris wheel that could be seen across the Burrard Inlet, from downtown Vancouver.

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"They would be able to see this beacon to say, 'North Vancouver is there,' and then take the Seabus over, then it's a couple minutes walk and you have got this great urban gathering place," he said.

Patrick Condon, chair of the urban-design program at the University of British Columbia, says there was once a trend in cities of building either free-standing observation structures, such as Toronto's CN Tower, or decks atop tall buildings, such as Harbour Centre's Vancouver Lookout.

Then came Ferris wheels: "They have captured the imagination of this decade by being visually more dramatic and more fun than an observation deck," he said. "It seems to combine the attraction of an observation deck with the fun of a carnival. They're visually very dramatic on a waterfront."

Mr. Speigel said successful Ferris wheels need to appeal to tourists because local interest can quickly burn out.

They also need to be easily accessible, in the midst of other attractions or in a central location.

Also, he said they must offer a compelling view. For example, the London Eye shows the glories of central London. "Just to take people up and turn them in a circle? That's not what they're on for, because it's not a thrill ride."

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