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First Thrill Ride Coming to Manhattan
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It’s a thriller – a new ride that intends to drop its riders some 260 feet, or 40 stories, mounted on a skyscraper.

While this could just be a towering carnival ride with a crazy cool backdrop, it is anything but – it’s located in none other than the Big Apple itself, New York City. The city’s Department of Buildings has just approved a plan from Extell Development to build a 1,067 tower,  in Times Square no less.

The new 51 story structure will include the drop ride, calling it an accessory to the hundreds of hotel rooms, meeting rooms, retail spaces, restaurants and bars, and observation deck that will also be a part of the building. While the Times Square Alliance called the building and its amusement ride attraction “a great addition to the neighborhood,” some are less enthusiastic at the city’s approval for the project.

According to the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development’s president, Olive Freud, “Coney Island is an amusement park. Midtown is not.”

George Janes, an urban planner hired by the committee, states that the zoning is wrong for the ride, which should only be included in areas zoned for these types of attractions like Coney Island. He sent the city’s Building Department a challenge to Extell's application, requesting that the decision be revoked – at least until zoning is changed. Unless zoning is changed, he believes it is not a legal development.

In fact, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has proposed just that, suggesting the building department update its zoning laws to allow more such amusements. After all, the mayor’s City of Yes for Economic Opportunity proposal was developed to update rules from the 1960s to allow for the placement of amusement attractions closer to where most New Yorkers live.

Lack of enthusiasm from some sectors aside, Extell Development believes that hotels have evolved into offering a “wide range” of activities and entertainment, including attractions such as the drop ride. Billed as an accessory to the hotel itself, the development is in compliance with current city zoning, and not dissimilar to hotel offerings in Las Vegas with thrill rides, such as the coasters at the Stratosphere and New York, New York hotel in that location.

New York’s building department spokesman Andrew Rudansky told the New York Daily News  that the structure “doesn’t violate zoning” and in fact fits into the Theater District subzone which makes up Times Square, “the heart of the New York City’s entertainment district.”

Under the city's zoning code, Rudansky said, the area is “characterized by a unique combination of building scale, large, illuminated signs and entertainment and entertainment-related uses.”

As such there are already numerous amusement attractions in other buildings in the area, besides the bright lights of Broadway and illuminated billboards. There is the harness attraction that allows guests to dangle 1,000 feet above street level at the Hudson Yards complex, as well as a glass-floored deck at One Vanderbilt, called The Summit.

But more to the point, what will this massive drop ride be like? Set to be completed in 2027, planners have compared it to a Six Flags, New Jersey attraction, Zumanjaro. That ride and this planned attraction both are designed to have magnetic braking and hydraulic dampers as the cars stop. Three separate ride vehicles will hold four passengers each. The rides will each last 84 seconds.

Despite the pushback from the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development and some local residents, the project’s free drop ride seems set to go.

Midtown conglomerate Related Companies, which had previously planned a million-square-foot office tower on the site, sold the property to Extell, and their land use chair, Layla Law-Gisiko said she had no idea whether or not amusement rides are appropriate in midtown. However, she also does not believe the project is properly zoned to be permitted. Extell, for its part, describes the project as being an economic driver for the area, one that will provide “significant economic development benefits” for the city.  

But like Rudansky, Times Square Alliance President Tom Harris agreed that the attraction appears to be a terrific experiential addition to the city, noting that “New York City is constantly finding ways to show New Yorkers and visitors new ways to see this amazing city.”

He also cites attractions such as RiseNY and the Ferris Wheel located in Toys R Us as earlier examples. Rudansky adds that “Construction permits for the approved tower were issued earlier this month.”

In short, you can’t stop city hall – or a drop tower with approved construction permits. It’s unlikely that the progress of the ride’s construction and development will be slowed. One other caveat is the building on which the ride is to be located. As another hotel, local residents note that adding a new hotel site to the area is hardly necessary, especially considering a major hotel project, the Row Hotel on 8th Ave., is currently closed as a hotel and is being used to house migrants instead of city visitors. Instead of another hotel, they say, affordable housing is needed.
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