The new Giant Ferris wheel co-owned by Frank Zaitshik and Michael Wood generated more than $400,000 in revenue from 80,000 plus riders, according to figures confirmed by Wisconsin State Fair officials.
The 155-foot-tall attraction drew a total of 81,824 riders, said Shari Black, the fair's director of event services. The cost to ride the wheel was $5 a patron, and doing the math, the result was $409,120 in gross revenue.
Black would not say where the wheel placed among the state fair's top attractions. Based on initial projections, Michael Wood, president of Wood Entertainment, said he believes it ranked among the top three grossing rides behind the Giant Slide and the Skyglider tram ride, which has much greater capacity than the wheel.
Wood said the wheel doubled its ridership compared with the Florida State Fair in Tampa, where the ride made its North American debut in February.
In Wisconsin, in addition to becoming a new showcase on the midway, the themed "Wonder Wheel" upgraded a piece of State Fair Park that had become dated over the past several years. It replaced the old West End Marketplace, which was torn down as part of refreshing that space.
"Part of the plan was to take that part of the fairgrounds that had lost attendees and revenue and revitalize that space," Wood said. "The food vendors in that area were pleased we were there. We brought 80,000 visitors for sure to that area, plus all the people that came to see it and watch members of their family ride it."
Great weather helped out with the exception of the first two days, Wood said. Rain on opening day, Thursday, Aug. 3, resulted in a washout, and the bad weather continued for about half of the next day. The wheel could have produced higher revenue had those hours of operation not been wasted, he said.
When thunderstorms come through, Wood and his crew must be extra cautious, considering the wheel acts as a "155-foot-tall lightning rod," he said. Lightning strikes within 10 miles force evacuations from the ride and if those strikes are within five miles, they must cease operations until it moves five miles past the fairgrounds, he said.
This week, the wheel makes its way to the Minnesota State Fair, whose dates are Aug. 24-Sept. 4. In St. Paul, it will be set up one block north of the kidway on Machinery Hill, a 10-acre property on the north end of the fairgrounds. Similar to West Allis, the wheel will sit on re-purposed space that previously held commercial exhibits, Wood said.
"If it's anything like Wisconsin, I expect we will do very well there," he said.
The wheel wraps up its state fair run in Oklahoma City. Those dates are Sept. 14-24.