'Eiffel Tower,' Ferris wheels among attractions proposed for Inner Harbor

A 13-story structure pitched as Baltimore's Eiffel Tower and a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel could rewrite the skyline of downtown Baltimore if either is approved by city officials for the Inner Harbor waterfront.

The city and the Baltimore Development Corp., its quasi-public development arm, released details this week of nine proposals received last month from companies in the United States and Europe. One or more of the proposed attractions could be installed as part of a city plan to provide family-friendly entertainment along the downtown waterfront.

City officials and other civic leaders are reviewing the plans and say they hope to announce one or more winning projects this spring — and to have the attraction, or attractions, ready for the 2012 tourist season.

One of the largest, and previously unreported, proposals is an "aerophare," a $2 million tower with an elevator-like shuttle that would take 12 passengers at a time 130 feet up for a panoramic view of the city. The aerophare — roughly "flying lighthouse" in French — is proposed for the west shore of the Inner Harbor, between Harborplace's Light Street Pavilion and the Baltimore Visitor Center. The tower would be slightly lower than the 155-foot-high mast of the Constellation.

Two other groups would build giant, modern-day Ferris wheels, called "observation wheels," which would take passengers 200 feet up in the air.

Great City Attractions Global Ltd. of Great Britain — which operates the world's largest observation wheel, in Singapore — proposed a wheel for the southern end of Pier 5, with 21 "capsules" carrying up to eight people each.

Premier Rides of Baltimore also proposed an observation wheel, which would be part of a large collection of rides and activities, including a trampoline, slides, a carousel and miniature golf, as well as facilities for wall climbing and rappelling, among other things. The company proposes to use Rash Field and sections of West Shore Park, among other areas.

A fourth ride-oriented idea calls for an aerial tram and a zip line, which would run from Federal Hill to the Baltimore Visitor Center. The project would be a joint venture of Skyline Baltimore, headed by Trey Winstead, and Glenwood Tramway LLC, headed by Steve Beckley. The proposal is a modified version of an aerial tramway that has been previously proposed for the Inner Harbor.

"The Inner Harbor has been a tremendous jewel for the city of Baltimore," Donald Fry, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Baltimore Committee and part of a 13-member advisory panel reviewing the proposals, said Wednesday. "But it is more than 30 years old, and it needs to address what people will want over the next 20 to 30 years. It needs a 'wow' factor."

Ryan O'Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said Wednesday that the proposals show the companies "believe the Inner Harbor is a place where they can be successful."

"It says that, even 30 years after Harborplace opened, the Inner Harbor is still the place to be," he said.

Jerome Giacomoni, president and chief executive officer of Aerophile SA, a French company whose Florida-based subsidiary heads the development team behind the aerophare proposal, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the tower with a moving platform "is not just a ride, it is a show."

"We want it to be as if you are flying above the Inner Harbor. … We want to give you the opportunity to see Baltimore from a new angle," he said. "The Ferris wheel you see everywhere. This will be unique."

Unique to Baltimore, at least. Aerophile has built two similar towers in France.

For the local project, Aerophile teamed with Lee Raskin, a Maryland-based developer who operated the Baltimore Hi Flyer balloon on Market Place from 2001 to 2004.

Raskin said he believes the aerophare could be "Baltimore's smaller version of the Paris Eiffel Tower," a new element on the skyline that would be visible from afar and could be illuminated like a beacon.

Operations of the Hi Flyer ended after a July 2004 incident in which passengers were stranded aloft for nearly two hours after a sudden squall.

Raskin said he and the French company were seeking to work with local firms to obtain naming rights and possibly to put advertising on the tower's shuttle. He said the team is also exploring the idea of using solar panels to power the moving platform.

According to O'Doherty, the advisory panel will make recommendations to the Inner Harbor Task Force, which is made up of representatives from city agencies and the Waterfront Partnership. O'Doherty said the task force will make a recommendation to the mayor, who will decide which proposal or proposals to select.


The nine proposals

•A 13-story viewing platform on the west shore, featuring panoramic views of the city: Aerophile Orlando LLC and Lee Raskin.

•Beach volleyball courts on Rash Field: Baltimore Beach LLC.

•Eighteen-hole miniature golf course on Rash Field or West Shore Park, or a course with fewer holes if the city prefers: Charm City Golf, headed by Richard O'Keefe, working with the Harris Co. of Wildwood, N.J.

•A 200-foot "observation wheel" at the end of Pier 5, with 21 "capsules" that can hold eight passengers each: Great City Attractions Global Ltd. of Birmingham, England.

• A 27-seat "trackless" train to take passengers from the Inner Harbor's north shore south to the vintage 1906 Herschell-Spillman Carousel near the Maryland Science Center and Rash Field: Knightco Carousel, headed by Richard Knight and Stacy Duff.

•Multiple attractions, including a trampoline, a 200-foot "observation wheel," a carousel and miniature golf course, as well as facilities for wall climbing, rappelling and slides, among other things, for Rash Field, West Shore Park and other areas: Premier Rides of Baltimore.

•Sky trail rope course, for an unspecified location: Ride Entertainment Group and Entertainment Finance Group.

•An aerial tram ride and zip line from Federal Hill to the Baltimore Visitor Center on Light Street: Skyline Baltimore and Glenwood Tramway LLC.

•A variety of activities, including a 60-foot tower for rock climbing, zip lines, a three-person giant swing, kayak tours or land-based scavenger tours and a "team building" center. Terrapin proposes to use Rash Field, West Shore Park and the waterside plaza in front of the Maryland Science Center: Terrapin Adventures of Columbia.

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