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Steel Pier observation wheel brings wonder back to Atlantic City

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

The casinos aren’t the only structures that tower over Atlantic City’s boardwalk. At 227 feet tall, the new observation wheel on the Steel Pier has quite a view.

“I think this is going to be the most iconic thing we do at this point,” said Steel Pier President Anthony Catanoso. “We’re sitting on the Atlantic Ocean and we probably have one of the best pieces of property in the United States. We are 1,000 feet out in the ocean. Our riparian grant goes almost 3,000 feet, but we have such incredible views. We said what’s going to accentuate that to take it to the next level.”

The entire project took about four years. It opened the day after Christmas. Catanoso says he researched a number of manufacturers.

“It boiled down to a manufacturer in Italy who would galvanize the entire project, the entire piece of equipment, because we are in the ocean. We’re not on the ocean, we’re in it, so the elements here are very, very hard on your steel. So everything we do out here has to be galvanized, and that was the only company that would give me a completely galvanized wheel,” Catanoso said.

Catanoso and his team traveled back and forth to Italy to oversee the project. On the pier, crews poured the foundation.

“Since the pier was designed for a 15 or 20 story structure hotel back in the 80s, we said we know we have the strength to hold the static load, now we just have to figure out how to make it hold a dynamic load because this is something that moves. It’s not like a hotel,” Catanoso said.

One hundred trucks poured concrete.

“The load was spread over the foundation so we could bring in the eight legs that hold the structure, so that distributes the weight,” Catanoso said. “It’s 700,000 pounds of wheel on 4.5 million pounds of foundation.”

Catanoso hopes The Wheel will become a memorable part of Steel Pier’s history. It first opened in June 1898.

“It was named Steel Pier because of the steel girders that supported underneath. Previously they didn’t use that, so they used the construction to name the pier Steel Pier,” said Stockton University special collections librarian Heather Perez.

Perez says the Steel Pier became popular right after it was built.

“Atlantic City was at its peak really starting in the 1890s. People would flock from worldwide to come to Atlantic City and to see all the things that were here and Steel Pier was a part of that,” Perez said.

Perez said there were wheels on the pier over the years. Unlike some of the rides with open gondolas, these are climate controlled and enclosed.

There are 40 gondolas on The Wheel and six people can fit inside each one. The ride lasts about 15 minutes and there are sweeping views of the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Wheel is open year round. It has 14,000 LED lights which are on 24/7.

“A lot of people said this has become the Atlantic City boardwalk night light,” Catanoso said.

He’s eager to see how many people visit this summer to take a ride over the ocean.

“This means so much more to Atlantic City though because of our resurgence, our revitalization,” Catanoso said. “We are really excited because this has become the centerpiece of that resurgence.”