Special Update: In a June 2, 2016 tweet Track Family Fun Parks announced that the Branson Ferris Wheel will open to the public at Noon on June 23. [https://twitter.com/bransontracks/status/738462403025731584]
“It’s truly an amazing thing to see the gigantic Branson Ferris Wheel towering elegantly over the Branson Strip” said Preston Garrison, the Director of Operations for the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest providers of tourism services and information. Garrison was referring to the transition and metamorphosis of the famed Chicago Navy Pier Ferris Wheel from Chicago, where it was to be replaced by a bigger one, to Branson, thanks to the efforts of the Track Family Fun Parks.
Craig Wescott (CW), President of Track Family Fun Parks sat down for an interview with the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) recently. He presents a unique perspective on the transition, which we are presenting in question and answer format and hope you will enjoy, as you learn some insider facts about Branson’s newest attraction and how it all came about:
BTC: Why did you guys decide to purchase the Ferris Wheel?
CW: We believed that it would fit right into our mission of creating unforgettable moments for visiting families not only to our parks, but to Branson in general. This particular Ferris wheel was an icon on Navy Pier in Chicago. It was ridden by nearly 17 million people from 1995-2015. With Branson being in the Midwest as well, we figured that many people who live in or visit Branson would know of this Chicago icon. With the stories we have heard from people in just over three months since making our announcement, there is no doubt that many people have great memories (and many cold ones!) of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. We purchased something that came with many emotional connections; you can’t get those with a brand new attraction. Branson area locals and visitors appreciate stories, and there is no doubt that this Ferris wheel comes with many. It was also great timing because it tied in with the 35th Anniversary of our company, which we are celebrating this year.
BTC: What is the best estimate as to when it will open?
CW: We are shooting for the middle of June . [Note: In a June 2, 2016 tweet Track Family Fun Parks tweeted that it would open to the public at Noon on June 23.]
BTC: Will its name be changed?
CW: Yes, it will be called “The Branson Ferris Wheel”
BTC: How much will it cost to ride?
CW: $12.00 for adults, $8.00 for kids 4-11. And kids under 3 ride free.
BTC: What Ferris Wheel was it modeled after?
CW: You could say that it was inspired and modeled after the original Ferris Wheel designed by George Ferris Jr. for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The original was bigger and had different gondolas, but it is clear that the inspiration for the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel came from it.
BTC: How Tall is it?
CW: 150 feet.
BTC: How many gondolas does it have?
CW: It has 40 gondolas, each of which is fully enclosed.
BTC: What’s its maximum capacity?
CW: 240 riders. Each gondola can handle up to six with a maximum limit of 990 pounds per gondola.
BTC: How will guests be restrained bar, belt, etc.
CW: There is no seat restraint because the seats are inside a completely enclosed unit.
BTC: Will guests be able to carry babies and small children on laps?
CW: Absolutely. They will be sitting inside a completely enclosed unit.
BTC: What are the hours of operation?
CW: From 10 AM through approximately Midnight.
BTC: How will the wheel operate?
CW: We will use basically the same procedure they used on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. The wheel will remain in motion at all times, traveling slow enough that people can board from one side while those finishing their ride are exiting from the other side.
BTC: How long will the ride be?
CW: The ride will last for about seven to seven and a half minutes from the time you enter the gondola until you exit and consist of one complete revolution of the wheel.
BTC: How long was it at Chicago’s Navy Pier?
CW: For 20 years.
BTC: When did you find out it was for sale?
CW: In early October of 2015.
BTC: Had you been eyeing a Ferris Wheel for a long time, or was this just a right place/right time-type of situation?
CW: We have been intrigued by Ferris wheels for a couple of years, but I wouldn’t say that one was in our short-term strategic plan by any means. We knew that Branson would be a great place for one because of its scenery and energetic entertainment corridor, but we just had the idea in a file somewhere. In 2015, we did make connections with some industry friends who had knowledge and expertise in Ferris wheels. As it turned out, we were asking questions and dreaming a little bit at the right time. That fortunate timing put us in a position to learn of the Navy Pier replacing their Ferris wheel with a new, bigger one. So, it was definitely knowing the right people at the right time. Our scenario is a testament to the importance and benefit of expanding your network of industry peers…it landed us an iconic Ferris wheel! With there being both national and international interest in the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, we were extremely fortunate to get it.
BTC: How much did it cost?
CW: The total cost involved with its purchase and transition to the Branson Ferris Wheel represents about a $4 million investment.
BTC: Who originally manufactured it?
CW: It was originally manufactured by Vekoma Rides in the Netherlands.
BTC: Who is rebuilding the Branson Ferris Wheel?
CW: A team of eight from Dutch Wheels, a division of Vekoma Rides, has been here to help get it to this point. Their head engineer has put together 150 Ferris Wheels around the world during his 32-year career.
BTC: What improvements will be the most obvious to those seeing the Branson Ferris Wheel?
CW. Its brand new paint job and the change from its original incandescent lighting system to a new programmable system of over 16 thousand LED lights and music that was designed and is being installed by Michael Haygood’s company.
BTC: When did it arrive in Branson?
CW: About the middle of February.
BTC: How many trucks did it take to get it to Branson?
CW: The wheel was loaded on 26 semis over a period of four days and transported to Branson where it took four days to unload them.
BTC: How wide and deep are the anchors and how many cubic yards of concrete are in them?
CW: Each is 54 inches wide and they vary in depth from 8 feet to 24 feet depending on the soil conditions underneath. The piers, pier caps, and tie beams making up the foundation for the wheel contain 250 yards of concrete and 40 tons of rebar.
BTC: How was the decision made in what direction to face it?
CW: We wanted people coming down Highway 76 in either direction to be able to see the face of the wheel.
BTC: What about this ride excites you the most?
CW: We are getting something with this ride that money can’t buy. It has a great story and is something that many have an emotional connection with that we wouldn’t have gotten with a new Ferris Wheel. It will be exciting to be a part of the new stories and emotional connections that it will be a part of in Branson over the decades to come.
For more information about the Branson Ferris Wheel and Track Family Fun Parks please contact Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or visiting www.BransonTourismCenter.com
*Photos courtesy of Track Family Fun Parks