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Plan In the Works To Build Ferris Wheel On San Diego's Bayfront

A rendering of a proposed project to build a Ferris wheel on San Diego's bayfront.
David Malmuth
A rendering of a proposed project to build a Ferris wheel on San Diego's bayfront.
Plan In the Works To Build Ferris Wheel On San Diego's Bayfront

A lighted 450-foot Ferris wheel could be rotating on San Diego’s bayfront if a plan by a development company, owned in part by former San Diego Unified Port District lead negotiator Charles Black, is approved by the port and the California Coastal Commission.

The project, called “The San Diego Skywheel at Discovery Point,” would be on Tuna Harbor Park next to the Midway Museum. In addition to the Ferris wheel, the project would include a terraced park, kinetic lighting design and a 30,000 square foot pavilion to house interactive exhibits and shows.

The development company, Discovery Point LLC, is owned by David Malmuth and Charles Black. Malmuth is a partner of I.D.E.A. Partners, which sees downtown San Diego as an innovation hub. Charles Black is the former president of the San Diego Padres, as well as the former San Diego Unified Port District lead negotiator and project manager of the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan and Civic Center Redevelopment Project.

Malmuth told inewsource the idea for the project came about a year and half ago from Black, who had seen the London Eye Ferris wheel and wanted something similar for San Diego.

Malmuth said his first reaction was “frankly, if it’s just about a wheel, we’ll pass.”

“But if you’re open to the idea that the wheel can be part of this larger storytelling experience,” he said, he’d be open to working with Black.

What emerged was a much bigger project, one involving a team of seven partner companies and an estimated $200 million in project financing. Malmuth estimates 30 months of construction if the Skywheel is approved by the port and California Coastal Commission.

If everything goes perfectly, Malmuth said, Discovery Point would open in 2019 or 2020.

The companies involved in Discovery Point so far are Gensler, Starneth, Entertainment + Culture Advisors, McCarthy Building Companies, Greenhaus, Seaworld Parks & Entertainment and Nuffer, Smith, Tucker.

Economic and market analyst firm Entertainment + Culture Advisors estimates annual attendance between 1.7 million and 2.3 million visitors paying between $25 to $30 for admission. Total annual revenues are projected to be between $60 to $70 million.

On Oct. 1, 2014, Discovery Point LLC submitted a letter to the port’s acting president and CEO John Bolduc outlining the project and asking the Board of Port Commissioners to determine “whether and under what circumstances Discovery Point should proceed,” since the port is currently in the process of revising its master planning process.

On Wednesday, Malmuth presented the project to the San Diego Environment + Design Council, a small group of influential designers, architects and planners who weigh in on development projects. On Feb. 10, Malmuth will officially propose the project to the port at its monthly board meeting at 1 p.m. at the Port Administration Building, 3165 Pacific Highway, San Diego.

"They could potentially say, we love this idea — we want to work with you exclusively, which, I think is highly unlikely," Malmuth told KPBS on Wednesday. "Or they would have some other method of evaluating this proposal or other proposals being made that are somewhat similar to ours.”

San Diego resident Edward Estlund said the project seems to be pretty fully formed and that makes him a bit uncomfortable.

“They should have a competition so that other ideas can be explored," Estlund said.

But Wayne Thorne, who is visiting San Diego from Canada, said he isn't immediately sold on the idea.

“The area is beautiful the way it is," Thorne said. "My first thought on it is I probably wouldn’t want to see it.”

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