I boarded the Great Wheel with two of my other friends. After a half hour walk, $15 ticket and 45 minute wait full of teen girls taking selfies and tourists capturing literally everything, we finally got to see what this whopper of a metal wheel was all about .
When I first heard about Seattle’s Great Wheel, I had the same reaction as when I found out that Oklahoma City was getting a basketball team: I thought to myself, “no no, that doesn’t go there.” Seattle is a gorgeous, pristine city; why would we have a tacky old Ferris Wheel straight out of Puyallup? Where would it go?
Needless to say, I was worried: the last thing I wanted was more annoying tourists walking around and creating traffic with their righteous antics. I’ve been to Alki beach and on the ferry hundreds of times; a little Ferris wheel on a pier wouldn’t be any different, right? So I ignored the Great Wheel completely, leaving it as a gimmick to attract those who don’t know the city.
The white wheel slowly turned 45 degrees and we got a glimpse of what was in store for us: a row of piers ending in rustic wooden buildings off to the north and the always stunning sports spectacles of Safeco and Centurylink Field to the south.
One summer, with the sun dropping closer every minute to the horizon on one of those perfect Seattle days, I was walking downtown with my friends when they suggested we go on the Great Wheel. Personally, I thought it was too expensive and not worth my time. It’s just a Ferris wheel, right? My friends didn’t think so, iterating the pleadings “it will be fun” and “come on” as if I should be willing to throw down $15 to go in a circle a few times.
Yet when I got down to Pier 37 right on Elliot Bay, I was anything but discouraged. White lights illuminated smiles of anticipation. Shaken by the pure excitement looking up at the 175 foot behemoth, I had the odd feeling of pride for a city that I have only been a part of for 19 years. The owner, Seattle businessman Hal Griffith, could not have chosen a more perfect time to build the Wheel with the Viaduct finally being ripped down. The Great Wheel provides a constant flood of both local and touring visitors to the waterfront that the stores and restaurants will need to counter construction’s negative influence, which is exactly why he built it (according to his website). Also, when the new parks and tunnels are complete, the Great Wheel will be more enticing than Kate Upton doing the Cat Daddy.
Our gondola came to a stop at the very top and suddenly we were the highest on the wheel. We could see everything, from the perfect skyline of Seattle’s buildings to the sunset over the islands. That’s the moment I knew that this experience is like no other in Seattle. We were in our own private world, enjoying a view of almost everything that Seattle had to offer in one little circle.
42 gondolas rotate holding up to 300 customers at a time, and Griffith stands to make a lot of money; granted, the wheel cost him and his group 20 million dollars. In comparison, the Space Needle cost $4.5 million in 1962, which, according to inflation, would be $33 million today (here). Of course, it’s hard to compare the profitability of a skyscraper/restaurant hybrid that rises above the skyline with a simple Ferris Wheel hidden away on the end of a wooden dock, but the risk of investment and potential of the area (one of the best in Seattle with the proximity to Pike Place, the water, and the ferries) does beg to question: in ten years, which will people be more drawn to?