Originally slated as a one-year installation that was part of the celebration of the Golden Gate Park sesquicentennial, the 150-foot-tall observation wheel at the Music Concourse might get a four-year extension.
The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department announced Thursday that it seeking an extension of the Ferris wheel's stay until 2025 — but the final decision will lie with the Historic Preservation Commission and the Rec and Park Commission. The announcement comes as the city begins reopening for more outdoor activities, and after the ride, from the vendor Skyview Partners, was only able to be briefly in operation last year for five and a half weeks between October and November.
"Extending the SkyStar Wheel’s time in San Francisco will allow us to finally fulfill people’s expectations and accommodate the thousands of riders whose hopes were dashed," said Nancy Bechtle, co-chair of the Golden Gate Park 150th Honorary Committee, in a statement. "During the brief time the Wheel was open, it brought immense joy and life to the Music Concourse. It provided people with a respite from the pandemic and a new way to see their beloved park."
Installation of the wheel began last March, and celebrations at the park were scheduled to begin in April, before the pandemic hit. The wheel sat idle until the city gave the go-ahead for it to open in late October, and in its five weeks it was able to give rides to 65,693 riders.
Rec & Parks publicly stated their intention to extend the wheel's stay back in mid-December, a few weeks after it closed. And the announcement was met with some immediate pushback from environmental groups who don't like that it was installed in the first place. The Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter said that the wheel was causing "environmental damage," particularly from its "intensely bright, flashing and completely unshielded lighting." And the local Audubon Society chapter's San Francisco Conservation Committee noted that birds are negatively affected by bright light, and "Many bird species migrate at night, and the spring migration begins at the end of February."
The department and the Parks Alliance argue that extending the permit for the wheel will add a fun element to the park as the city reopens and a potential economic driver for tourism. It will also allow the wheel’s operator, Skyview Partners, to fulfill its commitment to providing 500 tickets each month to underserved communities in San Francisco.
The first hearing on the wheel's future will happen on February 4 at a meeting of the Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee. The committee's recommendation will then go to the Historic Preservation Commission for review, after which a final recommendation will go before the full Rec and Park Commission.