AP Photo/Office of the Mayor of New York
Artist's rendering of a proposed 625-foot Ferris wheel, billed as the world's largest, planned as part of a retail and hotel complex along the Staten Island waterfront in New York.
The man who wants to build the world’s biggest Ferris wheel in a flood zone of Staten Island says he wasn’t scared off by the damage and death caused by superstorm Sandy.
But Richard Marin, the developer of the plan to erect the 625-foot structure, said he's been forced to confront the fears of residents of the ravaged New York City borough.
Marin said he can “thank Hollywood” for doomsday scenarios in which people envision his wheel snapping off its posts and “rolling across Staten Island” the next time a hurricane blows up the East Coast.
Even though the $500 million project – which includes mall and hotel -- would be built on land that took on four feet of water during Sandy, Marin told NBC News that he doesn’t share those worries.
For one thing, he expects to build at least one or two feet above the level that the federal government deems the flood zone, with all the vital mechanical and electrical equipment safely out of reach of a storm surge.
At meeting after meeting, he’s told residents that even if high winds somehow loosened the wheel, it wouldn’t crash down; it would be left dangling by cables much like a Midtown Manhattan crane that came loose during Sandy.
With an independent power “microgrid” that relies on alternative energy, a kitchen and a first-aid facility, the complex could even be used as a public shelter if Staten Island gets walloped by Mother Nature again.
“All of those things have helped a lot with the natural knee-jerk reaction of: ‘What happens when the next big storm comes and this thing falls on our head?’” said Marin, a former Wall Street banker.
The wheel plan has the backing of City Hall and Staten Island’s top elected official, but some people are still uneasy about such a massive waterfront project post-Sandy.
"Before the storm, I don't think that anyone had really given much consideration to the fact that these projects are being built in a flood plain," Beryl Thurman, an environmental activist, told The Associated Press.
The tourist attraction, she said, "should be put on a back burner until the city of New York can come up with real answers."
Nancy Rooney, a nurse, said the developer’s full-speed-ahead approach struck the wrong note at the wrong time.
“It was in poor taste to be discussing a Ferris wheel and all this glamor -- it was very hard to embrace this when you knew that your colleagues and their family members were devastated, and there were people who don't have heat or electricity or homes," she told the AP after attending a public meeting.
Marin admits he “bruised some sensibilities” but said it was for the greater good.
“We’re convinced of the viability of this project,” he said. “People say: Should you be talking about something as frivolous as an amusement? … Now, more than ever, Staten Island needs the kind of economic development this project has to offer.”
The goal is to have it up and running by the end of 2015. Long before then, though, Marin hopes to secure a corporate sponsor that will put its name on the wheel at the cost of many millions a year.
He said that company executives have not been as skittish as some Staten Islanders.
“I don’t think there have been undue concerns because of the storm,” he said.
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