Big Wheel

Despite not getting approval from the Mayor and City Council to move the “Big Wheel” next to the Boardwalk, Trimper Rides did so anyways, causing the attraction to extend more than 10 feet past the theme park’s property line.

City orders Ferris wheel taken down because it hangs over right-of-way

A massive amusement park ride attraction known as the “Big Wheel” was erected last week at the southernmost part of the Boardwalk as part of Trimper Rides, and on Saturday, the president of the company and some of its shareholders celebrated the new attraction with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

But what was supposed to be a celebratory moment quickly turned into a nightmare for Antoinette Bruno, the president of Trimper Rides, when the amusement park was cited by the city for erecting the structure so it hangs over the company’s property line – 10.38 feet to be exact. She also did not have permission from council to install the ride over the public right of way, and has since been told to dismantle the “Big Wheel.”

During the public portion of the mayor and City Council meeting on Monday, Bruno said she did not feel Trimper was in violation and that the Ferris wheel went where the council said it could go – with an aerial overhang of four feet over the Boardwalk.

“It was truly human error, for the number of inches over,” she said.

Councilman Matt James, however, told Bruno that she was never granted the ability to install the ride four feet over the Boardwalk. 

The issue really came to light late last year when Bruno met with council on the matter on Oct. 5. The issue was tabled so legal counsel could review the request.

During that meeting, Bruno asked for permission to move the Big Wheel closer to the Boardwalk, creating a 13-foot encroachment, 52 feet above the boards, in the public right of way.

Under city code, businesses are permitted to extend signs and awnings a maximum of four feet from the property line if they are at least seven feet off the ground.

Being generous toward Bruno, the council agreed to consider allowing her and the business to install the ride so it extends four feet over the Boardwalk because theoretically, it is a sign and an advertisement. But no action was ever taken at the October meeting other than to table the request.

At the time, Bruno told council it would be beneficial to the economic development of the resort because visitors rarely go south of the pier to visit places like Dumser’s Dairyland and the Dough Roller.

Bruno also said there is an element of confusion between Jolly Roger at the Pier and Trimper Rides, noting that people see two Ferris wheels along the Boardwalk and buy a ticket at the former and bring it to the latter expecting to ride the Big Wheel.

She added that Jolly Roger has a competitive advantage because of its location.

“I have a real problem, as the government, to get involved in that and take away, or minimize, the competitive advantage the pier has,” then council member Mary Knight said at the time. “I would be agreeable to four feet, not 13 feet, because the government is interfering with business.”

Former council member Dennis Dare also spoke up in October, saying if the council allowed the company to extend its ride over the Boardwalk, it would set a precedent and every business on a dead-end street would want to put a sign over the right of way for economic development.

Dare also said if an object – like a quarter – were to fall from the wheel’s maximum height of 52 feet, it would hit the ground at approximately 40 mph — enough to leave a mark.

Dare echoed those sentiments this week in a Facebook post, after the ride was erected.

Bruno and Trimper Rides had the ride installed without the council’s permission. Also on Monday, she accused the town of ignoring her earlier requests to place the topic back on the agenda, an assertion that was not received favorably.

Meehan quickly denied ignoring requests such a request and city attorney Heather Stansbury said City Clerk Diana Chavis has no record of it being denied.

Council members were open to having the discussion right then because Bruno had the survey in front of them.

Bruno did ask to have the meeting rescheduled for a later date so she could come back better prepared, but the council was ready to discuss it then.

Bruno was joined by ride co-owner Michael Wood and Scott Savage, who helped configure rides to ensure they fit.

As part of a deal Bruno and Trimper Rides made with Wood, the Big Wheel would be installed next to the Boardwalk in a prime location, as opposed to the same location the ride was in last year, next to South Baltimore Avenue.

The other part of the Trimper-Wood agreement was that he could install three additional rides on the company’s property. If those measures could not be met, Bruno told the council, Wood would leave with the Big Wheel and never return. Bruno said she would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if that were to happen.

Wood admitted fault to the council, saying he and his team were responsible for the ride’s installation. He backed up his mistake, though, by saying he took every precaution when it came to safety, and that the ride is safe where it sits.

While some members of council were concerned about safety, the issue boiled down to the precedent it would set were the ride allowed to remain where it is in violation the city code.

Meehan reminded Bruno of a situation in 1986 when Trimper’s Tidal Wave rollercoaster overhung the street by 3.5 feet. Because it was over the street in violation of the code, the council told the ride owners to chop it back into conformity.

“This is like Deja vu,” Meehan said, telling Bruno the Big Wheel was over public property.

And while the city is involved because Bruno insisted the ride would fuel economic development, Matt James pointed out that this is really an issue between her and the Big Wheel’s owner.

Stansbury told Bruno there were two issues: the Ferris wheel extended over the property line, and whether the Ferris wheel’s overhang could be treated in the same way as a sign or awning, 

“For that,” she said of the latter, “there can be a four-feet overhang, at times.” But she added, “The only time this was brought up was in October where there was not a solution.”

Councilman John Gehrig told Bruno the council wants her to succeed, but the ride was installed in a spot that was not approved by the city.

 “I don’t want to do things wrong,” an emotional Bruno said. “I want you guys to be proud of us.”

When asked if the ride could be repositioned, Bruno said it could not because of her deal with Wood. Back in October, the ride owner apparently said he wanted that spot because it was more likely to generate the income needed to cover setting up the wheel in 2021.

Along with the deal, though, Bruno said the rides could not all fit on the property.

Councilman DeLuca suggested the council vote to require Bruno to remove one ride and move the Ferris wheel so that it did not encroach over the public right of way.

Bruno said moving the rides around would be expensive – disassembling the wheel would cost $37,000 and moving one of the rides would cost an additional $10,000. The other two rides would cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Councilman Mark Paddack asked Savage if the Ferris wheel would fit if one ride were to be removed, and was told by him that it would, but then Bruno added that would cause Wood’s departure.

“This isn’t a fair, this is a town with a public street that happens to be pedestrian friendly,” Paddack said. “As a government entity, the public’s safety is paramount.”

Bruno said she tried the test of dropping a quarter from 60 feet, adding, “It wouldn’t even hurt your hand.”

Council members directed Bruno to come up with a solution and present it to them.

“It’s your property,” Meehan said. “You’re the one in violation. Why don’t you figure out how to fix it and let us know?”

Bruno and her team returned to on Tuesday and said that the “Big Wheel” could not be relocated. If ordered to do so, the ride operator would take the attraction out of Ocean City.

Bruno and her team later returned to council and said that the “Big Wheel” could not be relocated. As of Thursday, plans were being made for its departure.

This story appeared in the print version of Ocean City Today on June 11, 2021.

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