There could be a big wheel in Myrtle Beach next summer - a really big wheel.
If St. Louis-based Pacific Development gets its way, it will build a 175-foot-tall SkyWheel Ferris wheel on the oceanfront just north of Plyler Park.
"We're really excited about the thing. It's big enough to be an iconic feature for the city, " city manager Tom Leath said.
The wheel would be the largest east of the Mississippi in the U.S. and be just like the one on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, said Downtown Redevelopment Corp. Executive Director David Sebok.
The plans are on a fast track, with a proposed alley-swap with the city on the Planning Commission's agenda for today and the wheel complex's conceptual review coming before the Community Appearance Board on Thursday. The Myrtle Beach City Council will consider the alley-swap and air-space rights at its meeting next week.
Representatives for Pacific Development were unable to speak with The Sun News on Monday, but said they will be in town for the appearance board meeting this week.
Leath said plans estimate the construction at $12 million to $14 million, not including the oceanfront lots. It's unclear without talking to Pacific whether the land is being sold or leased to the company.
Leath said the plan is to tear down the Golden Villas motels, which stand at 1106 N. Ocean Blvd., and spend the next nine months or so constructing a 5,400-square-foot building that will house a restaurant, a retail shop, a gift shop and the SkyWheel ticket booth on the two .28-acre lots where the motels now stand.
"It's plenty of room, " said James Hubbard, principal architect at Pegram and Associates, which has come up with the design.
Pacific proposes moving the alley that lies between the two lots to just north of Plyler Park at Mr. Joe White Avenue and the boulevard, which would give more beach access and easier access to the SkyWheel, Leath said, including a wheelchair ramp and stairs that will likely be built off the new alley.
The wheel features 42 glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled gondolas where people can relax and take in the ocean view. Leath said the company won't make strangers sit together in the gondolas, each of which can seat six to eight people, so each person or group that gets in one will have a private ride.
Sebok said people will be able to take refreshments or even cocktails aboard the gondolas to enjoy as the wheel slowly revolves several times.
Because the gondolas are heated and cooled, the wheel can operate year-round, Sebok said.
"[Pacific] had been looking for some time for a site for the wheel, and their first choice is Myrtle Beach, in great part because of the boardwalk, which has been getting attention across the country, " he said.
The wheel won't conflict with the sky tram ride that has been proposed for the south end of the boardwalk, Sebok said, although that project likely won't be done this year because there are zoning and oceanfront setback issues that need to be resolved.
Hubbard said his group and DDC Land Art, the civil engineers, are working on the concept design as Pacific works with the wheel manufacturer in St. Louis. The wheel will have to be transported halfway across the country to be erected here.
He said his firm and DDC are looking at how the wheel sits on the site, how the complex connects to the boardwalk and how to make even waiting in line an enjoyable part of the experience.
"This is our first wheel project, " he said, "but we do a lot of theater and amusements, and the challenges are the same. You're moving a lot of people, and it's about handling them in such a way that they really enjoy the experience and tell their friends. Being near the ocean will make the whole experience unique."
Myrtle Beach's SkyWheel isn't the biggest wheel in the world - the London Eye is 443 feet tall, the Star of Nandang in China is 525 feet tall and the Singapore Flyer in Singapore is 541 feet - but Sebok said it will be easily visible from downtown, and certainly along the boardwalk.
"We think it's a perfect fit, " Sebok said. "We've been searching for attractions to locate throughout the downtown AC-3 [zoning] area so we can have an assortment of attractions to enhance that family friendly beachside entertainment complex."
Downtown's redevelopment officially began with the boardwalk construction and is continuing as the Second Avenue Pier area is redone. The wheel could be next year's big addition, Sebok said.
"Ever since the Pavilion was torn down, the City Council has wanted to find ways to keep the unique entertainment feel of the core downtown area, " Leath said. "This is a really neat idea."