Does Chicago need a $250 million tourist gondola ride?

gondola chicago
© F10 Studios

We love mass transit, particularly when it is electrically powered. Gondolas have also proven useful in places with difficult topography, like Rio de Janeiro, and they work in New York, getting people to Roosevelt Island. Those all get you somewhere.

Now the designers of the London Eye Ferris Wheel and the Brighton I360 tower have proposed the Chicago Skyline, a tourist gondola connecting the tourist attractions like Navy Pier, the Chicago Lakefront, and the Riverwalk. According to Wallpaper*

The Chicago Skyline could do for Chicago what the London Eye has done for London, and become a very identifiable landmark within the city, driving tourism and prosperity,' says David Marks, director at Marks Barfield Architects. 'Gently fitting in and standing out at the same time, it will allow local people and visitors alike to appreciate the city and its world-class architecture from a completely new perspective.

The designers say on their site that it continues a pattern of great Chicago design.

In the tradition of the early loop, the City Beautiful movement, generation of Chicago Skyscrapers and the skyride 1933, the Skyline blends modern engineering with deeply rooted architectural values.


Chicago Skyline from Davis Brody Bond on Vimeo.

It will also cost a quarter of a billion bucks, but is forecasted to bring in $ 300 million annually “due to the influx of tourism and trade these ingenious pods will generate.”

The proposed line can carry 3,000 people per hour. It should be noted that the London gondola built for the Olympics can carry 2500 per hour but carries about 2000 people per day, and is considered a total flop. It has not earned enough money to pay for its operating costs, let alone the cost of building it. However the London Eye, also designed by Marks Barfield Architects, is considered a big success (I thought it fun).

gondolas in action© F10 Studios

One hears the boosterism in the voice of a promoter, Laurence Geller, who is appalled that Chicago is not in the top 50 tourist attractions in the world.

"I'm bloody well ashamed," said the British transplant. "Chicago is a world-class city that the majority of the world does not know about. "We have to change Chicago's old approach to tourism from old guard to vanguard," Geller said. "We're delivering our business community a call to action. ... It's simply not in our DNA to accept mediocrity."

Now I always cringe when I hear the words "world class"; they are thrown around a lot where I live, whenever some scatterbrained scheme is proposed that usually over-promises and under-delivers. The fundamental question (and the reason we are talking about this on TreeHugger) is- do these kinds of crazy investments in tourist attractions build world class cities? Or could the money be better spent?

Tags: Chicago | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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