Construction of Ferris wheel for National Harbor already underway

It’s really happening — a 175-foot Ferris wheel is coming to National Harbor.

The approvals are in place, the permits have been okayed and the $15 million ride is already being built, with some pieces being assembled in Switzerland and the rest in Kansas.

The company building it, Chance Rides of Wichita, Kan., was founded more than 50 years ago and has made 119 wheels in its history, mostly smaller wheels for carnivals and amusement parks, as well as roller coasters, carousels and other rides.

As cities began turning to Ferris wheels as tourist attractions in recent years, Chance began getting requests for much larger wheels with more luxurious accommodations including enclosed gondolas that are heated and cooled.

The National Harbor version will be catered by Wolfgang Puck and can be lit up at night with colors corresponding to holidays or festivals. A VIP gondola can be rented out for special events.

“We’ve been building them since 2005, and we’re working on projects that are even larger than this one because of the demand,” Jenkins said.


(Renderings courtesy of the Peterson Cos.)

The term “observation wheel,” Jenkins said, sometimes refers to the larger, fancier wheels such as those in Niagara Falls and Seattle, which his company also built. Milt Peterson, developer of National Harbor, has adopted the term.

“It’s not a Ferris wheel,” Peterson said.

Chance Rides now builds about one observation wheel a year, said Angus Jenkins, the company’s director of theme park sales. Even though it will be less than half the height of the famed London Eye (443 feet), Jenkins said he expects National Harbor’s “Capital Wheel” will have some of the best views.

“This will have view sites that will be unequaled I would say by any wheel in the world,” he said. “I mean, on what other wheel can you look out and see the Capitol, the White House the Pentagon and look behind you and see Andrews Air Force Base? I mean, that’s a special experience right there.”


A view from the pier.

Construction of the Capital Wheel is already well underway. The 42 gondolas have been mostly assembled by a Swiss company, CWA Construction, and are being shipped in six containers to Maryland shortly, Jenkins said.

Chance is creating the rest of the structure in Kansas and will ship the parts piece-by-piece via truck to National Harbor, where they will be assembled on the pier. Jenkins said they will probably come in 24 or 25 separate trucks, with pieces beginning to arrive on site in mid-February.


The Petersons paid $1 million extra to have a wheel they could light with different colors for holidays and special events.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is on board for the wheel. Suddenly National Harbor, the largest economic development project in the county’s history, is coming out with a string of new attractions.

“The thing we like about the observation wheel is similar to what we like about MGM, which we always say is not just gaming, it’s entertaining. This is about entertainment,” he said.

Baker said he won’t be riding the wheel, however. He is afraid of heights.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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