Before Myrtle Beach's massive, oceanfront Ferris wheel can go up, the pilings have to go down - way down.
Creating support strong enough for a nearly 200-foot-high wheel - a $12 million to $15 million project on track to open in May - is in its early stages on the oceanfront spot next to Plyler Park.
To support the SkyWheel, 106 pilings will be installed 30 feet in the ground, said Al Mers of St. Louis-based Pacific Development, which is building the attraction. Then put a 12-foot cap of solid concrete on top of that, which provides support not only for the wheel's height, but also for the beach winds that will batter the wheel daily.
Crews have started preparing the site on the property where the former Golden Villa hotel stood, with the pilings expected to go down in the next few weeks and the frame to hold the wheel going up in January, Mers said. The wheel itself will start to come together in March, he said.
The wheel and related building must be built on a deck that will sit 20-feet above sea level - 3 to 4 feet above the ground - because the property is in the hurricane surge zone.
Construction of a building that will house a restaurant, ticket booth and gift shop on the site also will start in mid-December, Mers said. Mers declined to name the restaurant, saying an announcement is coming in a few weeks.
"We are not allowed to talk about it," he said. "There's going to be a restaurant down there. People will be excited about it. It's different and new."
The wheel and restaurant will be the second major addition in downtown Myrtle Beach in two years. The project comes on the heels of the $6 million, 1.1-mile boardwalk that opened in the spring.
"It is going to be a great, new, family-friendly attraction," said Dave Sebok, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corp. "The Ferris wheel is going to be unique. It's an attraction that everybody can enjoy. We think it is a great fit."
Some passers-by on the boardwalk have peered at the site, where construction gear sits and surveyors work, and wondered what was in the works.
Nancy Foster of Lexington, who has visited Myrtle Beach regularly for more than 50 years, was excited to hear a Ferris wheel would open in 2011, remembering when she rode one in Chicago and could see for miles from the ride's peak.
"Oh, that will be wonderful," she said. "This will be a really good addition."
Israel Daniels, a Denmark resident who has become a regular visitor to the Grand Strand in the last few years, already plans to take his nine grandchildren on the SkyWheel.
"They would love it," Daniels said. "I think it's great."
The wheel will have 42 glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled gondolas and plans to operate year-round. A ride on the Ferris wheel will cost about $10 for an adult, Mers said.
"We are trying to keep it within reason," he said. "We want to make sure it is something anybody can do."
The Ferris wheel will help fill the void left when The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park closed in 2006, said Jim Korszeniewski of Murrells Inlet, who was biking along Ocean Boulevard recently and stopped to check out the rendering of the Ferris wheel that's plastered on the temporary wall surrounding the construction site.
"I think this is awesome," he said. "That's the start of something. It will be really nice."
Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296.