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Navy Pier Plans to Get Some New Wheels...or Namely Just One

The Navy Pier is really doing it. They're getting a new wheel. We've been talking about this since at least 2008--so now let's broach the subject again. Whereas the intent, seven years ago, was to bring the wheel up to a staggering 300 feet, that's not quite happening.

But it's still growing up. According to the Tribune, Pier officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are ready to announce that the new height will stand at 196 feet, which is 50 feet taller than the current iteration....but 68 feet shorter than its 1893 World's Columbian Exposition ancestor. And it's not even close to Las Vegas' monster 550-foot High Roller or its sister spinners in London and Dubai. But the tallest isn't always the best, is it?

Let's talk ch-ching: according to Navy Pier Inc, this wheel will cost $26.5 million, including construction and landscaping. And no public funds were harmed in the shaping of this deal; private financing from a Fifth Third Bank loan have apparently made this happen. Sponsorships, none of which have transpired yet, are also in the works.

While it's not the tallest wheel in the world, it will have the advantage of being able to turn as the world does, year-round. To replace the current open-air configuration, the 42 new encapsulated gondolas will hold up to 10 passengers (versus six now) in comfort: padded seats, TV screens and speakers (though really, you should want to look out at the scenery) heat and air-conditioning, to draw riders in at all times. And the current white lights will be replaced with a rainbow of options that can be programmed for special occasions and night light shows. And there's more: the rides will increase from seven to 12 minutes, and from one full rotation around to three.

While George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.'s original 264-foot wheel was intended to rival the 1889 Paris Exposition's 1,063-foot Eiffel Tower, this wheel is intended to boost ridership, which has been on the downslide from 1 million in 1998 to 760,000 in 2014. More changes are on the way as the Pier makes itself over for its centennial birthday.

So you have until September to say your goodbyes to the current wheel that's served its duty so well. In May, the new wheel will start spinning.

· Chicago to replace Navy Pier Ferris wheel with taller one[Chicago Tribune]
· A bigger Navy Pier Ferris wheel? Let's get the wheels of creativity turning[Chicago Tribune]

Navy Pier

600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611