The Big Wheel Expected Back In Operation Saturday; Ride Owner Relocates Ferris Wheel To Avoid Zoning Infraction

The Big Wheel Expected Back In Operation Saturday; Ride Owner Relocates Ferris Wheel To Avoid Zoning Infraction
The Big Wheel is pictured earlier this month before it was dismantled. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — The Big Wheel is returning to the downtown landscape after the ride’s owner has found a way to shoehorn it into the Trimper’s Rides property.

Last summer, Trimper’s Rides partnered with Wood Entertainment to bring the Big Wheel to the historic downtown amusement park at the south end of the Boardwalk. The massive Ferris wheel, featuring LED lights and 36 gondolas reaching 150 feet into the sky, could be seen from all over the resort area and brought visitors to the downtown area.

This year, Trimper’s partnered with Wood Entertainment again to bring the Big Wheel back to downtown Ocean City, and the desire was to move it farther east in the amusement park to improve its profile for visitors and residents on the Boardwalk.

While the Big Wheel was clearly visible from all over the resort, as vacationers got closer to the end of the Boardwalk, its views were obscured by taller buildings last year, and there was evidently some confusion between the new attraction and the other tall Ferris wheel on the pier at Jolly Roger’s that has been a fixture on the downtown landscape for decades.

Last October, Trimper’s came before the Mayor and Council seeking permission to site the Big Wheel closer to the Boardwalk. While the massive wheel’s footprint would rest entirely within the amusement park’s property, the massive wheel and its gondolas would encroach over the Boardwalk and city property by an estimated four feet above the masses walking below.

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While generally pleased the Big Wheel was planning to return, the Mayor and Council members were lukewarm on the attraction’s encroachment over the south end of the Boardwalk and, after considerable debate, tabled the approval in order to consult with legal staff and risk management. The issue was never brought back up again.

Fast forward to early June and Trimper’s and Wood Entertainment brought the Big Wheel back to Ocean City as planned. It was erected farther east than its location last year and while the ride itself was positioned entirely within the amusement park, its gondolas towered over the public right-of-way by a little over 10 feet, which triggered a zoning violation.

At a meeting in early June, after considerable discussion, Trimper’s and Wood Entertainment were given little recourse but to remove the Big Wheel entirely or relocate it in the park so that it would not encroach over the public right-of-way. As the fines started to mount, the ride’s owner dismantled the Big Wheel in the days following that meeting.

As part of the arrangement with Trimper’s, Wood Entertainment brought three other rides to the park for the summer. After recalculating, Wood Entertainment found a way to keep the Big Wheel in Ocean City for the rest of its 40-day commitment. As of Thursday, the attraction was being reassembled in its new position and is expected to be open for business on Saturday, according to Wood Entertainment’s Michael Wood.

“Yes, we’re going to put it back up,” he said. “We have to take one ride out and move two others. I wouldn’t call it a happy ending, but it’s a moderately happy ending. All’s well that ends well.”

The original plan called for the Big Wheel to remain in Ocean City for 40 days. With roughly two weeks lost during the dismantling and reassembling process, that window has now shrunk to 23 days. Wood Entertainment has other contractual obligations for the Big Wheel and it is heading to the Wisconsin State Fair after leaving Ocean City.

From the beginning, Wood and Trimper’s acknowledged they had mistakenly sited the attraction so it encroached over the Boardwalk and Wood admitted as much this week, although he said the public outcry after it was learned it would have to be taken down made figuring out a way to move it worth it.

“Mistakes were made,” he said. “I understand the town’s position. Through all of this I have followed and read all of the comments on social media and there is overwhelming support for keeping the Big Wheel here. At the end of the day, the customers are what matters. They are my boss, not Trimper’s and not the town.”

Moving the ride has had significant financial consequence. During the meeting in early June, it was estimated to cost around $100,000 to dismantle the ride and reassemble it. Factor in losing roughly two weeks when the Big Wheel was down, and the loss of one of the other rides Wood Entertainment brought to Trimper’s this summer, and the loss is substantial. However, Wood said this week moving it and keeping it here was the right decision.

“It’s probably a terrible short-term decision, but a good long-term decision for our guests,” he said. “Most importantly, we’re taking care of our customers because they’re what matters the most. We made mistakes, but we’re going to make the best of it.”

While Wood acknowledged mistakes were made in the original siting of the Big Wheel, he said he and Trimper’s never really got a firm answer from the town on the original request last October. No official vote was ever taken on the issue.

“I can understand the position of the Mayor and Council,” he said. “They never did give us a definitive answer on the four feet. Obviously, we missed that mark, but we were kind of left up in the air.”

Even before the Big Wheel began getting reassembled this week, Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged the issue at the close of Monday’s regular meeting.

“I’d just like to thank Trimper’s Rides for complying with our request,” he said. “It was a difficult decision, but they did exactly what we asked them to do. They worked with the Town of Ocean City and I thank them for that.”

Meehan said on Monday he believed Trimper’s and Wood Entertainment were working on a solution.

“I know it was a financial hardship for them,” he said. “I understand they’re trying to relocate the wheel in the park and I hope they can find a way to do that.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.