With a thumbs up from one worker to another, cranes slowly took the construction of the SkyWheel in Myrtle Beach to a new level Wednesday: up.
Cranes started hoisting the legs of the A-frames that will hold the Ferris wheel, pleasing a crowd of onlookers - many of whom came with cameras to capture what some said was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
"It's something so unusual, we would never see this," said Tom Kirby of Lansing, N.Y., who has stopped by the site three consecutive days this week watching the work. "You can't beat seeing this go up."
Wednesday's work - dubbed the start of "vertical" construction - is the latest step in putting together the 200-foot-high Ferris wheel, which officials say is on track to open in May along with the adjacent restaurant, Jimmy Buffett's Land Shark Bar & Grill.
The $12 million attraction, being built on the oceanfront beside Plyler Park, will change downtown Myrtle Beach's skyline and is expected to lure visitors to the area. Crews have spent the past few weeks installing more than 100 pilings and pouring mounds of concrete to support the massive structure.
"It's a big day," said Julie Foshage, the SkyWheel's marketing director. "It's the first time you are going to get a perspective of how high the SkyWheel will be."
But the work didn't come quickly. Some onlookers waited for hours before the first of eight legs - each weighing about 35,000 pounds - was hoisted into the air about 2 p.m., only to be brought down again to line up more precisely, Chris Trout, the SkyWheel's general manager, said while standing on what will be the restaurant's upper-level deck facing the ocean. It will take a day or two for the two A-frames to go up, with three cranes and at least a dozen workers making it happen.
"We're not going to rush," Trout said.
Many of the onlookers said they didn't mind. They'll keep coming to check it out - lining the boardwalk, sitting in their cars parked in a lot next door and huddling together, pointing at the work and theorizing which leg will go up next.
"It just amazes us to watch," said Lester Turner of Montville, Maine.
But beyond watching the Ferris wheel come together piece by piece, some are equally blown away that a developer could pull off a project of this size with the country still in a slow economic recovery.
"They must know something about the economy that we don't," Turner said.
The wheel, which will have 42 temperature-controlled gondolas and a light show, is the second major attraction to open in downtown Myrtle Beach in as many years. The $6 million boardwalk debuted last year and stretches a little more than a mile.
Some of the tourists watching the work Wednesday said they'd try out the wheel when they come back next year. Each ride will last 10 to 12 minutes and do three loops.
"It looks like it's going to be something, no doubt about it," Kirby said. "It will be quite an attraction."