Ferris wheel in Central on course for soft launch in September, director claims
Man behind city's answer to the London Eye seeks to allay fears it will never get off the ground
Suzanne van der Erf
The man behind Hong Kong's answer to the London Eye has sought to allay fears the big wheel project might never get off the ground, saying all the parts are now in the city and a soft launch is on schedule for September.
It has been a year since the three-year contract to operate a giant Ferris wheel was awarded by the Lands Department - but the site at Central ferry piers 9 and 10 remained empty until a few steel structures appeared recently and some large containers bearing the logo of the company that won the tender, Swiss AEX.
With only two years of the contract left to run, AEX director Leon Snep told the Sunday Morning Post: "Our planning is more or less on par."
Snep, a Dutch national, said the company always knew it would take at least a year to get the Ferris wheel up and running.
In his IFC corner office, which overlooks the site AEX pays HK$825,000 per month in rent for, Snep added: "Of course, we would have liked to have the Hong Kong Observation Wheel up and running by now, but we are still working according to plan - a plan which we presented in our tender to the government as far back as November 2012."
According to Snep, the past year was spent on research and engineering work, finalising the design - and securing permits.
"After winning the tender, we filed for a permit with the Buildings Department to do the required land testing procedures to find out about the soil layers," explained Snep.
That apparently took about a month. After those tests, another permit was needed for more tests. It was January before AEX could decide on the foundations needed for the 60-metre-high wheel, less than half the size of the 135-metre London Eye.
Snep believes he has got the right experts on board: international construction management firm Mace, which was involved with the London Eye and Hong Kong's Ocean Park; global engineering firm URS; and Hong Kong landscape designer Urbis.
The wheel itself was designed by Dutch Wheels of the Netherlands, which worked with a specialist in offshore equipment. That meant the wheel could be engineered well within the usual time frame of two years or more, according to Snep.
"Our tender contained a sketch of an existing model of a standalone observation wheel, the DW-60," said Snep. After winning the tender, Swiss AEX and its partners focused on tailoring the wheel specifically for Hong Kong as well as securing permits.
In 1997, Snep began buying, restoring and reselling old carnival equipment, which turned out to be a lucrative business. In 2005, he bought his first Ferris wheel, La Grande Roue de Paris, which has operated in the Netherlands, Britain and France.
Snep says he was hit by a couple of setbacks in 2008; consequences of the financial crisis and business deals that fell through.
"Let's just say that I've learned some important lessons, one of them being that as soon as you own a Ferris wheel, you need an excellent site to put it on; without that, it's a burden with no benefits whatsoever," he says.
Swiss AEX, which was set up in 2011, runs the Asiatique Sky, the observation wheel in Bangkok, which has been in business since 2012. The Hong Kong wheel is the same height and by the same designer.
"Sixty metres works well; the higher the wheel the more expensive it becomes to manufacture, so the higher the ticket price," Snep said.
With the site still more or less empty, how likely is it that the wheel will be up and running in as little as three months? "We've appointed Leighton as our construction company and they should be able to start in a week or so; all parts of the wheel have arrived in Hong Kong; my Ferris wheel engineering team is on standby in Bangkok," Snep said.
"There are a few, less time-consuming permits to secure, but still, at this stage, I don't see why we wouldn't be able to do our soft launch in September," he added with confidence.