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Originally published June 29, 2012 at 9:52 PM | Page modified July 1, 2012 at 6:11 AM

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The Seattle Great Wheel opens to a big crowd

The Great Wheel, a 175-feet tall Ferris-wheel-like attraction on Seattle's waterfront, opened to the public late Friday afternoon.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle's Great Wheel

Some interesting facts about The Seattle Great Wheel.

It's really big: About 175 feet in diameter; riders will be as much as 200 feet above the pier and 40 feet out over Elliott Bay.

It's really heavy: Weighs a hefty 280,300 pounds. Some 550 tons of concrete were poured for the foundation.

It can pack in a crowd: Has 42 climate-controlled gondolas, each holding up to six passengers.

It's a quick ride: Each ride includes three rotations; lasting about 12 minutes total.

Tickets: Tickets are $13 for adults and $8.50 for children 11 and under. Tickets can be purchased at the pier and online at www.seattlegreatwheel.com. Military and senior discounts are available on-site with proper ID.

Source: The Seattle Great Wheel

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Standing below "The Seattle Great Wheel," just hours before it was set to open Friday, Pier 57 owner Hal Griffith looked a little frazzled.

Dozens of construction workers scurried about, laying bricks, putting the finishing touches on a ticket booth, steering a crane on and off the pier. Griffith compared what was going on to prep work for any major grand opening, but he said he sure could use another week to get ready.

"There's a lot of unfinished details," Griffith said as he stood underneath the 175-foot wheel on Friday morning. "The ride is done, it's all of the other things."

Nonetheless, the big wheel opened to the public, as planned, on Friday afternoon.

Griffith has envisioned a wheel on his pier for nearly 30 years; it's just taken years for the plan to come to fruition.

The Seattle Great Wheel is one of the largest of its kind in the U.S., according to developers. The 280,300-pound wheel holds 42 climate-controlled gondolas, allowing for 252 passengers at full capacity. Extending 40 feet over Puget Sound, the 12-minute ride boasts incredible views of the city.

Just before 8 a.m., under Friday morning's gray skies, passengers on an early run of the ride easily could see the entire city skyline, activity at the Port of Seattle and the morning commute on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Passengers could look down at the flurry of activity on Pier 57 as construction workers tried to get ready for the grand-opening ceremony at 2:30 p.m.

Jani Trousdale, who lives in Belltown, excitedly watched the construction Friday morning.

"I love it. My son's screen saver is the (wheel) in London; we're just so excited about it," Trousdale said. (The London Eye wheel is much bigger, at more than 400 feet high.)

Trousdale said she often has walked from her home to watch Seattle's wheel project take shape and plans to return this weekend to take a ride. She said she has taken a ride on The London Eye, and the view was fine.

"This one is going to be more spectacular," she said.

More than 200 people lined up before the Great Wheel opened to the public at 4:30 p.m..

University of Washington student Dustin Boehlke, 21, said he barely resisted camping overnight and was elated to snag the first spot in line with his girlfriend, Zerina Curevac, 20, at 8 a.m. A veteran of the Marines, Boehlke already has done a lot in life — including shooting his way to safety with a broken ankle in Afghanistan — but he'd never been on a Ferris wheel.

"It's a big day for Seattle, and I wanted to be a part of it," said Boehlke, who was upgraded to the VIP gondola for coming first.

Behind Boehlke was Vince Wilson, 49, of Roy, Pierce County, who didn't let his wife's fear of heights keep him from coming on his own. The 32-year longshoreman wasn't first in line, but he said he took pride in being the first customer to pay in cash through ticket windows that weren't even installed when he arrived at 10:30 a.m.

While most people stopping to watch and photograph the Great Wheel on Friday said they were happy about the waterfront addition, downtown resident Linda Mitchell remained skeptical, saying Seattle's wheel was "a little country fairish."

"On one hand I'm excited about it, but it's going to impact our skyline forever," she said.

Yet a new shape on the Seattle skyline is exactly what Bremerton resident Jeremy Blum, 29, liked most about the new ride.

"This is going to look really beautiful lit up as you come in on the ferries," said Blum, who brought a youth group from Sylvan Way Baptist Church in Bremerton. "This is a destination now — a legit party on the pier."

Seattle Times staff reporter Alexa Vaughn contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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