Prague Wheel backers seek to calm fears

Visualisation of Prague Wheel, source: Prague 5 municipality

A Prague district is looking to put itself on the map with a giant big wheel on the embankment of the Vltava river. But while local council leaders are enthusiastic about the project the plans have had a mixed reception from the public.

Visualisation of Prague Wheel,  source: Prague 5 municipality
Many major cities have rushed to make a mark over the last decade or two with a giant wheel or Ferris Wheel, named after the original construction in the United States. Las Vegas, London, Singapore, Chicago and Osaka are a few of the examples.

Now Prague’s 5 district on the left bank of the Vltava is backing its own giant wheel by the river, which it believes would be a draw for locals and tourists alike. Just outside the tourist centre and less of a draw than the bustling bars on the other side of the river, they are probably right to reckon the Smichov side has some catching up to do.

The current idea for the wheel is that it would be around 60 metres high, that’s around half the size of the now landmark London Eye on the banks of the Thames. But it would measure up fairly well against the big wheel in Vienna originally built in in 1897 to mark Emperor Franz Joseph’s 50 years on the throne.

Pleun van Dalen,  photo: archive of Dutch Wheels
And the cash backers of the project have already taken one major step with an agreement signed with Prague 5 council to rent the proposed site for the future wheel. And one of the biggest worldwide developers of big wheels is also on board.

Pleun van Dalen, a manager of big wheels producer Dutch Wheels was on hand to explain the concept at a press conference in Prague on Tuesday. One of the aims of the conference was to correct some of the past reporting and calm public fears.

“I think it can work in a city like Prague because there are a lot of tourists – and that is the concept that we have for the wheels. So, we see the wheel as a destination, you will see that in the presentation. In the end, for a city it’s a destination, it’s a landmark, it’s a new attraction. For the owners, it can be a very interesting investment.”

The idea is the wheel would be a hub that could reinvigorate the whole area with restaurants, cafes, exhibitions etc. And Mr. van Dalen says that it does not accept all comers when they come with potential destinations.

Visualisation of Prague Wheel,  source: Prague 5 municipality
“We get requests from people who want to install an attraction park and want to put a wheel. We decline and say no, it’s not our business, you should go somewhere else and buy an attraction park wheel which is also a different type of development and type of product.’

The project with a possible cost of around 200 million crowns is still very much in its early stages. It still has to get planning approvals and is not that far from the conservation heart of Prague. The investors and planners say the wheel could be up and running by 2017, but that’s a best case scenario for them with everything turning out well.