At the request of several SF supervisors, the Historic Preservation Commission held off on a final decision about whether to grant a four-year extension for the 150-foot-tall observation wheel in Golden Gate Park — which has only been operational for five weeks since it was first installed nearly a year ago.
What was originally supposed to be a one-year contract with Missouri-based Skyview Partners to install and operate their SkyStar Wheel at the Music Concourse in celebration of the park's 150th anniversary year may become a longer stay, if a proposal by the Rec & Parks Department gets the necessary approvals. The department announced last month that they'd like to extend the contract to 2025, adding a new attraction and potential tourist draw to the park for four more years and allowing the vendor to recoup revenue that they weren't able to make due to pandemic health orders in 2020.
It could be that the department was using a classic negotiating tactic and asking for a lot more than they wanted — four years when they'd be happy with one or two — knowing that there would be pushback on any request from environmental groups and neighbors.
The Historic Preservation Commission has the first say on the extension, and the commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to delay a vote until March 3. As the Examiner reports, this was done at the request of District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, who told the paper that "constituents' concerns were flooding in."
Chan says that she supports a one-year extension, and she was glad the commission allowed more time for "making sure that we really evaluate the duration of the wheel’s extended stay." Chan's request for a delay was supported by Supervisors Shamann Walton, Dean Preston, and Aaron Peskin.
In addition to neighbors complaining noise from the Ferris wheel's generator, there have been concerns raised by the Audubon Society and Sierra Club about the impacts on wildlife from the wheel and its bright lights.
These groups would like to see the wheel jettisoned altogether, with the Sierra Club issuing a statement saying, "Many bird species migrate at night, and the spring migration begins at the end of February."
The Parks Alliance and Rec & Parks are on the other side of this, believing that the wheel adds a fun new element to the park that could help in the economic recovery of tourist-serving businesses in the years to come. Also, they say, the new agreement sets up a revenue-sharing structure that will help to pay for other aspects of the anniversary celebrations still postponed.
"I really care about these small businesses," said one of the Historic Preservation commissioners who favors the four-year extension, Chris Foley, per the Examiner. "These little businesses in the Richmond and Sunset, they are crushed. They are literally beat to heck."
And at least one commissioner, Commission President Aaron Jon Hyland, called the opposition a "vocal minority."
Another commissioner, Jonathan Pearlman, decried the "creeping permanence" that such a long extension would create, and said it wasn't this commission's job to worry about economic recovery for nearby businesses.
If this commission approves the extension, the next step will be a vote by the full Rec and Park Commission.
The wheel was installed last March and intended open in April 2020 as part of a year-long celebration of the park's sesquicentennial. That was obviously interrupted, the SkyStar Wheel instead opened for business in late October, remaining open only until the city's lockdown began in early December. Without this or a briefer extension, the wheel is set to be removed in April 2021.