Balboa Park

Balboa Park Committee Approves Observation Wheel for Plaza de Panama

The wheel has 36 enclosed gondolas that can each accommodate as many as eight passengers with food and beverages from the Prado restaurant, with up to 288 passengers revolving simultaneously

Cohn Restaurant Group

A 148-foot wheel may be rolling its way into the heart of Balboa Park as early as next Spring to bring birds-eye views to visitors taking a ride to the top in a giant gondola.

The concept for the "observation wheel" -- named the Balboa Star by the project's sponsors, David and Leslie Cohn of the Cohn Restaurant Group -- was approved by the Balboa Park Committee in a 7-1 vote with one member abstaining on Thursday.

The Balboa Star must still be reviewed by the City Attorney's Office and the city's Historic Resources Board before the project can move forward, and could face other hurdles as well, the Parks Department's Assistant Deputy Director Christina Chadwick said.

“The Park and Recreation Department has identified a number of potential operational impacts that must be contemplated in order to fully appreciate the feasibility of this project,” Chadwick said. “Given the committee’s conceptual approval tonight, we will now be moving forward with the goal of getting this installation up and running on a temporary basis.”

If realized, the project would bring the wheel, operated by Sky Views of America, to the Plaza de Panama for three to six months. The Cohn Restaurant Group,  which owns the iconic Prado Restaurant and Tea Pavilion that are located in the park, proposed the idea as a solution amid the pandemic.

BALBOA-PARK-SKY
The Cohn Restaurant Group

The wheel has 36 enclosed gondolas that can each accommodate as many as eight passengers with food and beverages from the Prado restaurant, with up to 288 passengers revolving simultaneously. It's estimated to cost about $12 to $15 per person, with discounts available for families, military and seniors.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the project received some pushback during the Balboa Park committee's meeting, with some residents criticizing the wheel's size and some calling it an "eyesore." Some argued it didn't fit with the historic nature of the park.

While the majority of the board supported the proposal, Vicki Granowitz, who is a San Diego planning commissioner, was the one dissenting vote, arguing that it would take away valuable plaza space from the public during the spring and summer, the UT reported.

While the Balboa Park Star would loom large over the Plaza de Panama, riders would still not be able to see over the nearby California Tower at the Museum of Us, which reaches nearly 200 feet into the sky, according to park officials.

The Cohn Restaurant Group
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