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NYC plan for world's largest Ferris wheel rolls on despite Sandy damage

NEW YORK New York City is pressing on with plans for the world's largest Ferris wheel on its shoreline, despite the challenges from the deadly Superstorm Sandy two months ago.

Flooding led to some changes to the nearly $500 million project on Staten Island, which includes a mall and hotel, but developers haven't slowed it or scaled it back, even though parts of it are in a flood zone.

Some residents, a city watchdog and a planning group have asked whether it makes sense to push ahead with the attraction, which will reach 625 feet tall.

"It was in poor taste to be discussing a Ferris wheel and all this glamor - it was very hard to embrace this when you knew that your colleagues and their family members were devastated, and there were people who don't have heat or electricity or homes," said Nancy Rooney, a nurse who lives and works on the island.

The storm gave wheel developer Richard Marin "momentary pause," he said. But he quickly decided to keep going. Private money will pay for the project.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg envisions the attraction becoming one of the city's premier draws, offering vistas of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty to as many as 30,000 riders a day. Developers aim to get it going by the end of 2015.

"There are far more people in the community and in the city that are in favor of this than there are against," Marin told CBS Radio.

Marin said the Ferris wheel will be built to withstand a Force 3 Hurricane, and that Sandy put more scrutiny on its design, so developers are ready.

"There were a number of reasons why we, under direct advisement from City Hall, chose to stay on course. I mean, in many ways, getting this project done depends very heavily on getting it done while the current administration is in office," Marin said.

Since the storm, the developers have been making sure the buildings can withstand flooding, Marin said, and electrical and mechanical equipment will be 30 feet (9 meters) above sea level. The wheel itself will be designed to withstand sustained winds up to 129 mph (207 kph), far stronger than Sandy's.

The city Independent Budget Office, a watchdog agency, and the Municipal Arts Society, a nonprofit urban planning group, both spotlighted the Ferris wheel plan in separate blog posts wondering what development lessons the city will learn from Sandy.

Building the Ferris wheel and other waterfront projects without a citywide look at coastal building "increases the risk that the next 'superstorm' will exact an even higher price tag," IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky wrote.

But to Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, Sandy's blow is no reason to step back from what he sees as a transformative project.

"We have to show the community, and we have to show the world, we're coming back," he said.

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