ATLANTIC CITY — The owners of Steel Pier have pushed back the start of work on a 200-foot-tall observation wheel several times since they announced their plans for the giant attraction in 2013.
But Anthony Catanoso, the pier’s president, says the partners got news late this year they hope will help them open the ride before summer starts.
They got approval to place the wheel and 40 enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas on their existing deck, instead of having to start a new concrete pad next to the current pier. That should speed up putting up a $14 million project that’s been delayed repeatedly, including by the pier’s financial troubles.
Tony Rossi, Steel Pier’s operations director, says that placement change alone should shave six months off construction time.
Before that, though, workers need to finish taking down an old roller coaster and more rides to make space.
The owners went to the engineer who designed the pier in the mid-1980s — to replace an old Steel Pier badly damaged by a fire in the 1970s — to get the plans they needed to prove their project was safe.
“You have to remember that this structure was built as the foundation for a 12-story building,” Catanoso said, because previous owners planned at various times to put a hotel, casino space or even condos on the deck.
When the Steel Pier owners first revealed their wheel plans, they said the concrete pad they needed was 315 feet wide, 100 feet long and would cost $2.4 million. But to Catanoso, the time they’re saving by not building that structure means more than the money — even for an organization that’s struggled financially along with the city and businesses around it.
“We’ve been dying for this. It’s one of the most positive things happening in the city right now, and it needs to be successful for a lot of reasons. Not only for the pier, but for this end of the city,” he said.
The pier was hurt this summer by Unite Here Local 54’s strike against Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, which sits directly across the Boardwalk and is linked to Steel Pier by an elevated walkway. Owner Carl Icahn then shut down the Taj in October, making it the fifth city casino to close since the start of 2014.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has provided a $7 million loan for the project. CRDA also helped the pier owners cover debts to another lender for different rides.
Elizabeth Terenik, Atlantic City’s planning director, says she and other city leaders are “thrilled” to know work is finally starting.
“It’s huge. No matter how much we talk about other industries, attractions like that are really what the city does well,” she said. “Historically, that’s something that has always worked for the city, attractions built on the beach and Boardwalk.”
She looks forward to seeing cranes on the pier.
“That’s when people can really see progress and have confidence that the project is moving forward,” she said.
Rossi expects to see up to three cranes on the pier at one time, with the biggest one having a 175-ton capacity.
The wheel, made by an Italian company called Technical Park, has been waiting in 40 cargo containers in Steel Pier’s Egg Harbor Township storage area. When it finally starts going up, it will be a big project, but the owners think it should be a fairly quick one, too.
“When it’s moving, we’ll probably have 30 or 40 people at a time working out here,” Catanoso said, including pier staff, union crews and consultants sent from Italy.
Contact: 609-272-7237 MDeangelis@pressofac.com Twitter @PressBeach