A highly anticipated construction project that has had its share of ups and downs is now complete in downtown Atlanta. A 20-story tall Ferris wheel, known as Skyview Atlanta, is open for business at the south end of Centennial Olympic Park.
“The wheel itself is 180 feet high, but when you include the platform it sits upon and our preparation of the site, fliers will be approximately 200 feet off the ground,” said Jason Evans, spokesman of Skyview Atlanta. “The project has excited the city so much. The media has been beating down my door, constantly wanting more information about how the construction was going, and when we expected to open.”
The steel structure features 42 gondolas that can hold up to six people. Each enclosed bucket offers heat and air-conditioning, a panic button connected to an intercom, and non-reflective glass for taking photographs and recording video. The ride includes four rotations and takes about 15 minutes. Equipped with one million multi-colored LED lights, the attraction was originally scheduled to debut just days before the July 4th holiday. Unfortunately, the start date had to be pushed back, despite crews working extended hours to try and meet the original deadline.
“The main challenges were schedule, weather and existing conditions,” said Brent Benson, project manager of Civil Site Services Inc. “Our company was responsible for the excavation, haul off, import of stone, concrete and asphalt. We also installed fencing for privacy.
According to Benson the space is very compact, and totals less than 5,000 sq. ft. (464.5 sq m) of disturbed area. Crews had to excavate roughly 6 ft. (1.8 m) into the ground for a total of six footings. They averaged 5 ft. (1.52 m) wide by 20 ft. (6 m) long. The team excavated for the footings, demolished the existing parking lot, installed an underground detention system, poured concrete footings, built a concrete deck for the customers, installed hand rails and installed wood dunnage for the ride to sit on. In addition crews hauled 18 tons (16.3 t) of mulch for the landscaping and paved areas that were not covered up by the ride.
“We hauled off roughly 750 cubic yards of dirt,” said Benson. “To replace the dirt, we brought in approximately 600 tons of stone. We had good compacted material for the footings to rest on. We also poured approximately 65 cubic yards of concrete for the stabilization of the ride. We used 1,500 linear feet of 6 inch by 6 inch by 10 feet oak timbers for the water ballast to rest on and level the ride up.”
To carry out the variety of tasks, crews relied on a Volvo 160 excavator to dig up the unsuitable dirt, a Cat 259 skid steer to place stone back into the holes that were excavated and a Cat 323 compactor to compact the stone that was transported to the site. Workers used tandem dump trucks to move the material to and from the job site and a RT82 trench roller to compact the stone in the tighter areas.
Crews had to install concrete pads for the ride to be stable, according to Benson. At the start of the job, workers discovered there was a Georgia Power duct bank that ran across the entire site, and caused a quick change in the design of the field. The duct bank was approximately one foot below the existing asphalt parking lot, and was two feet higher than planned footing elevation.
“We raised the footing elevations by three feet to clear the duct bank, so the ride wouldn’t scrape the duct bank. Once we poured our concrete to get the footings to the correct elevation, we had to install 1,500 linear feet of wood dunnage for the ride to rest on. The wood dunnage allowed us to level the water ballast for the Ferris wheel. This keeps the bottom of the ride level.”
Benson said the most time consuming part of the process was the excavation of the unsuitable material. Importing the stone to reach a good solid surface for the ride to rest on also was a tedious chore.
Subs working on the site included Dockery Group, in charge of forming and pouring the concrete. AMPM Concrete Cutting helped with the final demolition and Lecraw Engineering assisted with the layout. Mullins Brothers Paving installed the final coat of asphalt.
“This has been a very fast-paced construction project,” said Evans. “If it wasn't for some unexpected delays , the time period from start of construction to the wheel being opened would be less than three weeks.”
The historic steel wheel had to be disassembled in Pensacola,Fla., where it spent the past year. It was transported to Georgia in special shipping crates transported by 30 tractor trailers.
“It was originally in Paris on the Place de la Concorde, across from the Louvre museum,” said Evans. “After that, it spent a short period of time in Basil, Switzerland. Our owners purchased it and brought it to Pensacola. It was always their intent to quickly bring it to a bigger market, one that was less seasonal. It did just fine there, but we expect to do much more business in Atlanta.”
Assembling the wheel at its new location, however, was no small feat, according to Evans.
“It's like putting together the world’s biggest Lego or erector set. The pieces are all ready, you just have to fit them in the right place and connect them together. The way they do that is largely through long screws or bolts. Some of these things are huge.”
Michael Montgomery, general manager of Skyview Atlanta, said crews installed the final spokes to complete the wheel just days before the official opening. Setting up the support structure to raise the legs was a key part of the process.
“The legs had to be assembled and then a 275-ton crane was used. Once the legs were lifted and the center axle was put in, we had to do adjustments to the support structures and make sure everything was stable, then start adding weights and do the spoke assembly. Each spoke is raised up to the center axle, pinned in and attachments are made to the ends of the spokes. We basically built this in a pie shape. There are 21 spokes, so we can carry 42 gondolas.”
The support structure is held in place by ballasts. There are six tanks, including a center ballast tank. Workers pumped about 20,000 gallons of water on each side of the wheel to provide the necessary support.
A 90-ton (81.6 t) Link Belt crane was used for the assembly, according to Montgomery. It’s the only portable observation wheel of this size in North America. One of the biggest challenges was bringing in 45 ft. (13.7 m) containers and navigating them through the streets of downtown Atlanta.
“The public was very gracious in giving us the space we needed to make those turns, said Montgomery. As for the actual assembly, this is such a precision machine, everything goes together. The design makes our work relatively easy, although many of the parts are very heavy.”
The parts are coded to go in specific containers, and arrive in sequence. They have pieces ready for the first steps of assembly. Crews pull the parts, set in place, pin them together and just keep going, according to Montgomery.
Four electric motors are required to operate the wheel, and it will be inspected on a daily basis. For Montgomery, safety is a top priority.
“If something doesn't look right, I won’t compromise and let the wheel go up, said Montgomery. “My team is trained to inspect 1,200 pins and clips, and that can take three -and-a-half hours.”
Pensacola-based developers Todd Schneider and Al Mers got the idea to bring a wheel to the United States a few years ago while Schneider was vacationing overseas and spotted a giant wheel with a long line of European tourists waiting to ride it. Although his pitch was initially met with skepticism, Schneider convinced his business partner to sign on. About 50 new jobs have been created as a result of the project, ranging from cashiers and loaders to maintenance personnel and wheel operators.
“I hope people who take a flight on SkyView will get a thrill out of seeing Centennial Olympic Park from above,” said Evans. “So many cities place most of their interesting attractions in the suburbs. I think Atlanta is out of the ordinary in how much development we are seeing in the downtown area, and how much of that is aimed at entertaining the people of the city and its visitors.”
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into this project, said Montgomery. “To see the wheel turn for the very first time is a remarkable feeling. It's truly exhilarating.”