FAA Objects to Ferris wheel at Xanadu

Friday, October 19, 2007 Copyright 2007 NorthJersey.com Online

By Nick Clunn
Staff Writer

A giant Ferris wheel that would provide a view of the Manhattan skyline from the Xanadu entertainment complex would jeopardize air travel around Teterboro Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration has determined.

The ruling leaves Xanadu's developer with two choices -- make the 33-story wheel smaller or prove that the proposed height would not interfere with flights in or out of the airport.

Engineers for developer Colony Capital Acquisitions will work with regulators so the wheel complies with safety standards, even if it means a smaller one, Tim White, a spokesman for the complex, said Thursday. But he said that even with the height of the wheel in question, New Jerseyans should expect to see it spinning when the $2 billion shopping and entertainment complex opens in November 2008.

The FAA told Colony that it would approve a wheel no taller than 190 feet, but would consider one taller than 286 feet to have a "substantial adverse effect" on air safety around Teterboro, which is about three miles away from Xanadu.

"We don't have any legal authority to stop a company from building a structure, but the majority of the time, they take our determinations very seriously," Arlene Salac, an FAA spokeswoman, said.

Regulators also deemed hazardous the prospect of a 289-foot-tall roller coaster on the Xanadu site. Xanadu officials in January 2006 said they had deleted a coaster from their plans, but public documents show that Colony asked the FAA in July to study a plan for one.

Carl Goldberg, chairman of New Jersey Sports Authority and Exposition, which allowed Xanadu's construction, said Thursday he was not aware of any FAA notices.

"There is no doubt that if the FAA has concerns about the height of anything at Xanadu, then that has to be looked at and addressed," Goldberg said.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the nation's largest advocacy group of its kind, opposes any Xanadu structure that fails to meet FAA standards, said Chris Dancy, an association spokesman.

Such structures would likely alter how aircraft approach and depart Teterboro, which might lead to a reduction in the amount of traffic. Less traffic at Teterboro would mean more landings and takeoffs at the metropolitan area's major hubs, which are already stressed, Dancy said.

"There is really not a lot of leeway in reconfiguring departures and arrivals," he said.

When Xanadu developers proposed a 400-foot wheel in 2004, the association told regulators to consider the amusement's impact on national airspace due to Xanadu's proximity to three of the country's busiest airports.

Xanadu's developers have billed the wheel as the largest in North America, and have touted it as one of the attractions that help distinguish the complex from a megamall.

Passengers would board the ride from one of Xanadu's buildings along the New Jersey Turnpike. Once on it, they would ride in one of 27 enclosed gondolas with climate control and enough room to hold about 20 people, giving passengers an outside view without having to step outdoors.

One time around the wheel would take about 25 minutes. The cost of a ticket has not been announced.

The FAA's ruling was cheered by Lane Biviano, who can see the Manhattan skyline from his Rutherford condominium, but might lose the view if the wheel is built at 333 feet.

"They want to pollute the sky with this structural graffiti," he said. "It's another form of air pollution, if you think about it."

Staff Writer John Brennan contributed to this article. E-mail: clunn@northjersey.com

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