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NYC Ferris wheel project has big backers

Associated Press Modified: September 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm •  Published: September 28, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — The Ferris wheel may be a steam-age invention, but it is back in vogue in New York, which this week joined a long list of cities where urban planners or developers have bet that massive, modern versions of the old ride can serve as economic engines.

After the towering London Eye debuted in early 2000, it seemed as if there was no end to the number of cities dreaming about stimulating tourism by building their own giant observation wheel, modeled after the one drawing 3.5 million riders per year in Britain.

Re-creating London's success has proved to be daunting, with failed or postponed projects in a number of world-class cities. But the concept still has luster. Work is being done on two new massive wheels in Las Vegas. Seattle saw a smaller version open on its waterfront last spring.

Now, the biggest test yet will come in New York, where city officials announced Thursday that a private development group had been given approval to build the world's tallest Ferris wheel, at 625 feet, on the waterfront in Staten Island.

The proposal, with a $230 million price tag, is audacious. Its success would rely on people being willing to travel by miles by ferry across New York Harbor to a remote, mostly suburban part of the city that has always been an afterthought to visitors.

Yet the people behind the project, led by a newly formed company, New York Wheel, include some heavy hitters.

The primary financial backers include Lloyd Goldman, a real estate baron who is part of the partnership redeveloping the World Trade Center site, and Joseph Nakash, a co-founder of the Jordache apparel company who now chairs an investment group that also owns airlines and real estate. The third primary investor is The Feil Organization, a real estate powerhouse that owns or manages commercial and residential properties across the country.

New York Wheel CEO Richard Marin spent decades as an executive at Bankers Trust Company, then led a subsidiary at Bear Stearns until some black eyes related to bad bets on mortgage securities led to his departure in 2007. After that, he had a job turning around a distressed real estate portfolio as CEO of Africa Israel Investments.

Now, though those real estate connections, he's found himself in the carnival business — or at least the venture capital version of it.

"It's a short trip from Wall Street to P.T. Barnum," Marin joked in a phone interview Friday.

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