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Iconic Coney Island Wonder Wheel Getting Environmentally Friendly Upgrade

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Wonder Wheel has been delighting visitors at Coney Island for generations.

And now its operators are putting a bright idea into action, giving the iconic Ferris wheel an environmentally friendly upgrade.

Deno Vourderis, also known as "D.J.," was recently hard at work giving his family-owned Wonder Wheel a solar panel and light bulb upgrade.

"We're going to bring back the original look that the Wonder Wheel used to have, where there were lights on the corners of all the cars," Vourderis told CBS 2's Mary Calvi. "But we're going to do it this time with solar panels."

Vourderis said that it will cost as much as $70,000 by the time the overhaul is complete, but he believes that bringing back the wheel as it appeared when it first opened in 1920 will be money well spent.

The Wonder Wheel has been in the dark since the early '80s, when Vourderis' father removed the original lights over safety concerns that the high-voltage system could endanger riders.

"There was 110 volts of pure electricity running through the entire wheel, so the only way to get power was to energize the third rail around the Wonder Wheel," Vourderis said. "We just didn't like the idea of that."

So now Vourderis makes each 40-watt light bulb by hand in his shop. He said that it takes him an hour to assemble each bulb and up to seven hours to install the lights on just one car. Now halfway complete, the lights will adorn the 16 movable cars on the ride, so if you do the math, the process has been slow-going.

But Vourderis said he doesn't mind.

"We care about Coney Island. We care about the environment and we love New York," Vourderis exclaimed.

The Wonder Wheel isn't the only ride getting an upgrade. The city has approved $2 million to light up the 262-foot-tall parachute jump, also called Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower. Borough President Marty Markowitz said he hopes that the parachute jump will be seen from outer space.

And both residents and tourists believe that the solar and light bulb renovations are exciting and enlightening.

"If this goes well, I'm sure they could have the whole park lit up that way," Australian tourist Tristan Chittleborough said.

Vourderis said he plans to have the project complete in time for Memorial Day weekend.

What are your memories of the old Wonder Wheel at Coney Island? Share your stories and comments below...

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