The Orlando Eye, the 400 foot-tall observation wheel being built on International Drive, should be ready for opening by the spring of 2015.
That's a few months later than developer Chuck Whittall had hoped — he was shooting for Dec. 31 — but Whittall is taking the delay in stride.
"Something like this is all custom-made," said Whittall, of Unicorp National Developments Inc. "The delays we've had have all been about building something that hasn't been built before."
Whittall was part of the team that gathered on I-Drive Wednesday to provide an update on the project, part of a $200 million redevelopment plan on property a little south of Sand Lake Road. Using the wheel's 200-foot-tall base as a backdrop, Whittall and executives with Merlin Entertainment said the attraction will be the centerpiece of a new entertainment hub called I-Drive 360.
In addition to the massive observation wheel — similar to wheels built in London and Singapore — the project will include a Madame Tussauds wax museum, a Sea Life aquarium and a host of retail shops and restaurants. One of those, a Yard House restaurant, will open later this month.
Merlin, which runs Legoland Florida and almost 100 other attractions around the world, will operate the site. The project is being built on the property once occupied by the Mercado shopping and dining complex. Mercado was razed in 2007.
On Wednesday, officials said the wheel, when complete, will transform the skyline of the tourist district and become a focal point for visitors. At 400 feet high, it will be the tallest structure on I-Drive, promoters said. The wheel will weigh about 3 million pounds, about as much as 300 school buses.
Visitors will ride in one of 30 air-conditioned capsules — each large enough to hold 15 people — on an 18- to 20-minute trip around the wheel. Promoters say that on clear days, riders will be able to see Central Florida's theme parks, many of its lakes, most of I-Drive and downtown Orlando.
Because the area lacks the dramatic skyline of London or Sydney, they'll also get an eyeful of thousands of flat roofs covered by cooling units, tar and gravel.
Project officials said the wheel's base is largely complete and its hub and spokes will be assembled in coming months. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the wheel, along with the wax museum and aquarium, will be a great addition to the heart of the county's tourist district.
"I could not be more excited," said Jacobs, who has been to the London Eye.
The project, made public in 2011, has had a convoluted history.
Its original name — I-Walk Orlando — was scrapped because it was deemed too similar to Universal's CityWalk district. Developers renamed it I-Drive Live but then ran into a zoning dust-up. Opening was set for summer or fall of 2014 was ultimately pushed back.
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