Melbourne rolls out ferris wheel project

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2002, 12:00am

Melbourne is to build a giant fairground wheel similar to the London Eye, in a move which the city hopes will finally allow it to compete with arch-rival Sydney's two architectural icons the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

The 100-metre-wide wheel, to be called the Southern Star, will cost A$40 million (HK$175 million) and will be part of a A$900 million shopping and entertainment complex in the city's redeveloped Docklands area.

The wheel, which could attract up to a million visitors annually, will be completed in time for the Commonwealth Games, which Melbourne will host in 2006.

Melbourne has been in Sydney's shadow for decades. Where Sydney has world-renowned architecture, Melbourne lacks landmarks of distinction. Sydney has a sparkling harbour and golden beaches; Melbourne has a sluggish, muddy river, the Yarra.

Steve Bracks, the premier of Victoria state, hopes the giant wheel will change all that.

AAI think it's going to be one of the key places where people gather as part of the Commonwealth Games,'' he said. AABut also, it's going to be a place of entertainment for Melbourne and Victoria for a long time to come.''

The London Eye was built as a millennium project and has been a huge success. More than 15,000 people a day pay about 15 (HK$187) to ride in its revolving steel and glass pods, which offer unsurpassed views of the city.

But the Southern Star has received a mixed reception in Melbourne. Sandra Kaji-O'Grady, a lecturer in architecture at Melbourne University, told The Age newspaper the city was clutching at straws. AAIt shows a level of provincial desperation which is not necessary here. Melbourne is a great city; it does not need to rely on gimmicks,'' she said.

Senior national tourism executive Christopher Brown dismissed the criticism as snobbery.

AAI don't think the thousands of Melbourne kids and all the tourists attracted to the ferris wheel will be complaining that it's an aesthetic crime,'' he said.