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Ferris wheel could stay at Fisherman’s Wharf until 2025

A large white Ferris wheel named "SKY STAR" under a clear blue sky, with enclosed gondolas on the rim.
An effort is underway to extend the Ferris wheel’s presence at Fisherman’s Wharf as a way to boost tourism in the area. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

The enormous Ferris wheel towering over Fisherman’s Wharf will see its license expire at the end of April—and now Mayor London Breed is pushing for it to stay spinning an extra 18 months in a bid to boost tourism.

The 150-foot-tall structure was situated in Golden Gate Park for about three years before being relocated because of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Its installation at the edge of the bay comes as the tourist hot spot has experienced significant financial troubles since the pandemic, with several long-standing restaurants closing last year over nonpayment of rent

Breed said Tuesday that keeping the amusement park attraction on the waterfront would help keep visitors coming.

Since its installation at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferris wheel has drawn over 90,000 riders, which is double the number compared with the same period in 2022, when the wheel was still in the park, according to city officials.

Between November and February, the Port of San Francisco made $109,689 in rent plus its slice of the ridership revenues, according to spokesperson Eric Young. During that same period, its operator, SkyStar, made $1.58 million, Young said. 

Board President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Connie Chan criticized the revenue-sharing model while the wheel was at Golden Gate Park. At that location, the city was making about $1 from each $18 ticket, Peskin said in an interview on Tuesday.

A Ferris wheel in a park with lush trees, paths, a sculpture, and a tram passing by.
The SkyStar Ferris Wheel is pictured from the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on July 11, 2023. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

“It was the wrong financial deal,” Peskin said of the previous agreement. The board president said the renewed, 18-month deal is adequate for a temporary lease but that the city may need to get a better cut if the wheel stays at the wharf long term.

In a text message, Chan wrote that the port location is a “much better choice than Golden Gate Park. I only wish they had done it much earlier.”

The new lease, which port staff says should go ahead without a competitive bidding process to ensure uninterrupted service of the Ferris wheel, would include a roughly $250 increase to the monthly rent in November. That would eventually amount to about $10,500.

The lease would also allow the Ferris wheel’s operator to increase ticket prices at any point during the 18 months—but it would need approval from port staff.

The roughly half-million-pound Ferris wheel was first brought to Golden Gate Park in early 2020 to celebrate the park’s 150th anniversary. While at the park, the ride—which features 36 gondolas and 1 million lights—drew complaints from neighbors because of its bright LED lights and the potential impact on wildlife

A spokesperson for the mayor said the 18-month extension could be heard as early as the beginning of April. 

“San Francisco is a city known for its incredible views, and the SkyStar on our waterfront is moving up that list,” Breed said in a statement on Tuesday. “This is the kind of attraction that can make our City a joy for residents and visitors alike.”

The license is currently set to expire on April 30, and the extension would make it run through Oct. 31, 2025.

“We are thrilled to continue this partnership with San Francisco for the next 18 months,” SkyStar CEO Todd Schneider wrote in a statement. “The Fisherman’s Wharf community, including residents, small business owners and tourists, have welcomed us with open arms, and we are proud to be a part of this community.”