Renderings of a proposed new Ferris wheel at the Boardwalk.
Rendering of a proposed new Ferris wheel at the Boardwalk that’s before the City of Santa Cruz’s planning commission for approval.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)
Coast Life

Boardwalk could have a new Ferris wheel soon, pending planning commission approval

The Chance Wheel is expected to replace the spinning Rock & Roll ride and give the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk its first Ferris wheel since 2017, when the previous 60-year-old wheel was retired following routine winter maintenance. A vote is expected Aug. 17 after being delayed Thursday.

Action on a project that would return a Ferris wheel to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk took a pause Thursday when the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission delayed a vote on the matter until Aug. 17. The Boardwalk has been without a wheel since the previous incarnation was retired in 2017.

The commission had been scheduled to vote on the project Thursday, but moved the decision to its next meeting because three commissioners were absent and Commissioner Timerie Gordon disqualified herself due to a conflict of interest. There are seven commissioners in total, and at least four votes are needed to pass an item.

The proposed new Ferris wheel, named the Chance Wheel, would replace the swirling, classic rock-inspired Rock & Roll ride adjacent to the east end of the Sky Glider that takes visitors from one side of the Boardwalk to the other.

The wheel would take up about 2,200 square feet and stand at 68 feet tall — 28 feet higher than the Beach Commercial zone district’s maximum height limit of 40 feet, but just a foot taller than the previous Ferris wheel. Two other rides are taller than the proposed Ferris wheel: the Double Shot is 125 feet tall and the Giant Dipper is 69 feet.

A diagram of the approximate location of the Boardwalk's proposed new Ferris wheel
The new Ferris wheel would replace the Rock & Roll ride, located near the east end of the Sky Glider and across from the Giant Dipper.

The applicant, architect Peter Bagnall on behalf of the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, which owns the Boardwalk, is requesting a special use permit to bypass the height limit, as well as a coastal permit in order to build commercial structures within the Coastal Appeal Zone. The staff recommends that the planning commission approve both of these permits.

The Boardwalk's previous Ferris wheel, retired in 2017.

The Boardwalk’s previous Ferris wheel, which sat next to the spinning Tsunami ride, opened in 1959 and operated for 60 years before its 2017 retirement. The Boardwalk shut the ride down during the winter for standard maintenance before ultimately deciding to permanently remove it.

If the project is approved, the relevant permits could follow within a few weeks.

The Chance Wheel will have blue spokes and 15 gondolas in a mix of yellow, orange and pink that can hold up to four adults or six children each. Its features include theatrical lighting that can display most colors in the color spectrum, and illumination will follow normal Boardwalk operating hours. Planning staff said in a report to the commission included in Thursday’s meeting agenda that they do not anticipate complications with noise or excessive lighting, as the ride is expected to be consistent with the rest of the Boardwalk’s attractions.

To protect the area’s birds, the ride will not have any red-spectrum lights, which have been known to cause disorientation among migrating birds. Additionally, the Seaside Company wrote in a letter that it is not aware of any birds being injured or killed by Boardwalk rides during the amusement park’s 116 years of operation.

This is at least the fourth Ferris wheel at the Boardwalk in nearly a century, according to the report to the commission. The first was built in 1925. A small kiddie Ferris wheel opened in 1945 and was shut down in 1970. The most recent Ferris wheel opened in 1959 near where the Pirate Ship ride is currently located. It was moved to the east end of the park in 1984, where it remained until it was shut down in 2017.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was designated a California State Historic Landmark in 1989. Two of its rides, the Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster, are on the National Register of Historic Places. The natatorium and casino are also listed as historic buildings in the city’s Historic Building Survey.

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