The Recreation and Park Department is seeking permission to keep a 150-foot high Ferris wheel operating in Golden Gate Park until March 2025.
The SkyStar Observation Wheel was installed in Golden Gate Park on a temporary basis to celebrate the park’s 150th Anniversary, but the celebration was muted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the wheel’s grand opening was postponed to Oct. 21. Even then it only operated for a short while as the pandemic raged on and forced its closure.
The wheel is currently permitted to remain in the park’s historic Music Concourse until March 2021.
Last month, the department told the Historic Preservation Commission that it planned to seek an extension of the wheel in the park, but it did not disclose for how long. At the commission hearing there were some criticism of the wheel, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner, but the majority of the body spoke in favor of supporting an extension, although they didn’t indicate for how long they would support one.
On Thursday, the department announced they want to keep the wheel there until March, 1, 2025.
The proposal to extend the wheel’s stay in the beloved park will be first heard on Feb. 4 before the Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee and then forwarded to the Historic Preservation Commission. If approved by the commission, it would require final approval by the Rec and Park Commission.
“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,” Nancy Bechtle, a co-chair of the Golden Gate Park 150th Honorary Committee, said 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.”
Rodney Fong, a co-chair of the Golden Gate Park 150th Honorary Committee and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said the wheel is “a unique experience that will help draw tourists back to San Francisco when health officials deem it safe again.”
At the December commissioner hearing, nature lovers objected to any extension of the wheel and raised concerns about its impact on migrating birds or insects. Others thought it had no place in the park.
Commissioner Jonathan Pearlman, the only member on the body who said he would oppose an extension at the time, said the Ferris wheel didn’t belong there.
“I agree with the naysayers on this,” Pearlman said at the time. “My question is, why isn’t it at Pier 39 where it would be totally appropriate? That is an amusement park. Why not put an amusement park ride where it would be appropriate?”
The wheel is comprised of 36 enclosed gondolas and colored LED lights illuminate it nightly.
The department said a portion of revenue from the wheel’s ticket sales would go toward transportation access to Golden Gate Park and cultural performances at Rec and Park venues.
The wheel is operated by SkyStar Wheel, LLC under an agreement with the Recreation and Parks Department, and offered 12-minute rides for $18.
The wheel opened Oct. 21 at 25 percent capacity and operated for 39 days only to close Nov. 29 when San Francisco entered the state’s most restrictive COVID-19 purple tier. The department hoped the wheel would have offered rides to 500,000 rides between April and March, but it has only had 65,693 riders to date due to its limited operations.