The San Francisco Recreation Department will seek to extend the 150-foot-tall SkyStar Observation Wheel’s stay in Golden Gate Park to March 1, 2025, due to the impacts of COVID-19, Rec. and Park announced today.
The SkyStar Wheel, brought to San Francisco last year as the intended centerpiece for Golden Gate Park’s 150th Anniversary, has been largely closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. The wheel was originally scheduled to leave the park’s Music Concourse in March 2021. Extending its residence would allow time to fulfill public expectations and provide economic stimulus as San Francisco recovers from the global pandemic.
The proposal will be first heard Feb. 4 at San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee, then sent to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) for review. If approved by the HPC, the matter will go before the full Rec. and Park Commission for authorization.
The Wheel was slated to open April 4, 2020 as part of a parkwide anniversary celebration. However, the pandemic had other plan – San Francisco issued its shelter-in-place order March 17, 2020 and halted construction on the Wheel.
After 200 days of standing idle, the Wheel finally opened Oct. 21, 2020 at 25% capacity. It operated for 39 days, then closed Nov. 29 when San Francisco entered the purple tier. The Wheel, which was expected to accommodate half a million riders in a year, has only served 65,693 to date.
“Extending the SkyStar Wheel’s time in San Francisco will allow us to finally fulfill people’s expectations and accommodate the thousands of riders whose hopes were dashed,” said Nancy Bechtle, a co-chair of the Golden Gate Park 150th Honorary Committee. “During the brief time the Wheel was open, it brought immense joy and life to the Music Concourse. It provided people with a respite from the pandemic and a new way to see their beloved park.”
Extending the permit will also allow the wheel’s operator, Skyview Partners, to fulfill and extend its commitment to providing 500 tickets each month to underserved communities in San Francisco. During the first month of operation, tickets were distributed to high need families at Community Hubs. Only a few tickets distributed the second month could be used before the wheel shuttered. The extension, if passed, would allow another 16,000 free tickets to go to deserving families.
During its brief operation, the Observation Wheel attracted new visitors to the park, museums and local merchants. The lure of safe, outdoor recreation brought foot traffic to the Music Concourse, making the park safer at night.
The Wheel evokes Golden Gate Park’s past, when the 120-foot-tall “Firth Wheel” dazzled visitors to the California Midwinter Fair of 1894. Today’s state-of-the-art Observation Wheel features 36 enclosed temperature-controlled gondolas, boasting unparalleled views from downtown San Francisco to the Pacific Ocean. Colorful LED lights illuminate the towering Observation Wheel nightly.
“Keeping the Wheel in San Francisco means supporting economic recovery. It helps the park’s cultural institutions and merchants in surrounding neighborhoods. It’s a unique experience that will help draw tourists back to San Francisco when health officials deem it safe again,” said Rodney Fong, a co-chair of the Golden Gate Park 150th Honorary Committee and CEO of the SF Chamber of Commerce.
A portion of revenue from the Wheel would go toward transportation access to Golden Gate Park and cultural performances at Rec. and Park venues that celebrate San Francisco’s diversity and support the arts community.
Video by Michael Durand
Categories: Golden Gate Park