Gables firm scheduled to launch balloon rides this spring
By Suzy Valentine
Miami's first new attraction in decades is set to launch in the spring.
Tethered balloon rides are scheduled to begin at Bayfront Park in April if the city approves final designs next month.
Parrot Jungle and the Miami Children's Museum have opened in the past five years, but both were relocations.
Skylift Holding of Coral Gables plans a year-round attraction next to the downtown park's fountain. In July, the city adopted a resolution authorizing the park's management trust to grant Skylift a license.
Just one formality stands between the company launching the enterprise - its architectural plans are under review with the city's Building Department.
"It's the holidays," said President Mark Funnen, "so not much is happening. I anticipate our plans will be finalized in the first two weeks of January."
The tethered balloon can rise up to 500 feet - close to the height of the Miami City Club on the 55th floor of the Wachovia Tower - under Federal Aviation Administration regulations that classify it as an amusement ride rather than a flight.
"We have a waiver certificate from the administration for that location that we secured two years ago," said Mr. Funnen, "though it has to be renewed on an annual basis."
Skylift is working with JAS Group Architects of South Miami and Withers Construction Co. on the project.
"Since we received the final plans from the architect," said Mr. Funnen, "we've been working with the general contractor on the logistics."
Following the city's approval of architectural plans, Skylift plans to build out its location in the park.
"There will be some minor construction," said Mr. Funnen, "during which we'll convert the fountain area and erect a small launch pad."
Skylift plans to build a platform on a bowl in what park officials describe as the fountain apron, said a management trust representative.
"The fountain infrastructure will remain intact," said trust executive director Tim Schmand. "Skylift plans to open its box office next to the railing. We plan to synchronize the operation of the fountain so that the waterfall effect is in operation as the rides take place."
Founded in 2002, Skylift began planning the attraction two years ago. It has ordered a balloon for $1 million and plans to charge $14 for adults and $7 for children for the 15-minute experience. The ride can accommodate up to 30 people.
Riders can enjoy views of Miami's vista throughout the day. "There will be daytime and night flights," said Mr. Funnen, "and we plan to fly until 11 p.m. or midnight."
The fine points of how and when the attraction is to be launched fall to the Skylift board - Mr. Funnen, Becker & Poliakoff attorney Mark Scott and retired businessman Daniel Braverman.
"A huge event," said Mr. Funnen, "is something we're planning, and we will hire a public-relations company to get the word out. I believe that there will be some celebrities in attendance, but I couldn't say who they'll be yet. This is Miami's first attraction in decades."
The attraction is to provide Miami residents and visitors something other cities have long offered - an aerial view of their skylines.
While New York has the Empire State Building and Chicago the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center; Miami has no viewing platform for the general public.
"The view is going to be spectacular," said Mr. Schmand. "You'll see from the Everglades to Gulfstream (Park)."